Taurid, Leonid meteor showers to peak in mid-November

Watch out for falling stars mid-November. Friday, November 12 brings the predicted peak of the annual Taurid meteor shower.

The longer nights of fall and winter bring more opportunities to enjoy the sight of meteorites, or ‘falling stars,’ as Earth’s orbit passes through cosmic debris trails.

Friday, Nov. 12 brings the predicted peak of the annual Taurid meteor shower, described on Space.com as a “rather modest show” compared to others, and there’s another night sky display the following week with the Leonids - which peak over the course of two nights, Nov. 16-17.

For the brilliant flashes they produce, meteors are surprisingly small -- often no larger than a lentil or coffee grain incinerating in a streak high above the Earth’s surface, “as it zips across the sky so quickly it is literally gone in the blink of an eye,” according to Space.com. “Fireballs, on the other hand, are produced when larger objects, between the size of a peanut and a grape, plunge through the atmosphere.” The website earthsky.org has excellent articles describing November’s two meteor showers, excerpted here:

“Bottom line: You might see a South Taurid meteor anytime from about September 10 to November 20. That’s when Earth is plowing through the meteor stream – the stream of comet debris in space – that creates this meteor shower. The North Taurids stem from a nearby, but slightly different stream. They’re active from about October 20 to December 10. Both showers produce about five meteors per hour (10 total when they overlap). There’s some evidence that higher rates of Taurid fireballs happen in seven-year cycles. And the last grand fireball display was in 2015.”

See photos of Taurid fireballs and read more at earthsky.org/astronomyessentials.

“Scientists don’t expect a Leonid meteor storm in 2021. Most astronomers say you need more than 1,000 meteors an hour to consider a shower a storm. That’s far from the 10 to 15 meteors per hour the Leonids deliver in average years. The Leonid shower is famous for producing meteor storms, though . . . In 1966, observers in the southwest United States reported seeing 40 to 50 meteors per second (that’s 2,400 to 3,000 meteors per minute) during a span of 15 minutes on the morning of November 17.”

You can see meteors from your backyard, but our surrounding Sonoran Desert is the best place for viewing. Drive far enough out of town that the stars, the same stars dimmed by city lights, begin to emerge into view. Tonto National Forest roads offer great places to watch for falling stars; or head for a park that offers a wide-open area with a view of the sky in all directions. When night falls, people are naturally impatient to see falling stars; however, they’re often most visible after midnight. Sleep earlier in the evening, set your alarm clock, then after midnight find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down facing skyward and enjoy the annual show. Invite your kiddos or friends to join you, viewing together while facing different directions - joining forces to help each other see falling stars and fireballs.

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