In 2012, the thin waning crescent moon will give us mainly dark nights for observing the annual North Taurid meteor shower. The predawn lighting from the moon will add to – rather than subtract from – this year’s North Taurid meteor display. Plus the moon is now near the planet Venus in the predawn sky!
Look for the moon and Venus in the east before sunrise on November 10 and November 11. Before sunrise on November 12, you’ll find the moon below Venus, right next to a fainter planet, Saturn, which will be very low in the east very shortly before sunup.
The waning crescent moon and Venus before sunrise on Saturday, November 10
No matter where you live worldwide, you’re likely to see the most North Taurid meteors in the wee hours – just after midnight – this weekend. This shower is going on now and continuing through the weekend. The peak night will likely be on the night of November 11/12 (late night Sunday/Monday after midnight), though any night this weekend might offer a comparable number of meteors. The North Taurids are generally a very modest shower, offering perhaps 10 meteors per hour on a dark, moonless night – like those this weekend. But even one bright meteor can be a treat, especially since a good percentage of the Taurid meteors tend to produce fireballs!
One of 32 constellation cards in Urania’s Mirror (View of the Heavens), via ianridpath.com.
The North Taurid meteors derive their name from the constellation Taurus the Bull. If you trace the paths of the Taurid meteors backward, you’ll see they appear to radiate from near the famous Pleiades star cluster of this constellation on their peak nights. You don’t have to find Taurus, though, to watch the North Taurid meteors. These slow-moving meteors can light up any part of the starry heavens, streaking through a wide variety of constellations. So just lie back comfortably and gaze in all parts of the sky, while waiting for the Taurid meteors.
Meteor flies by constellation Orion. At top left of photo, planet Jupiter and star Aldebaran highlight constellation Taurus, near the radiant point of this weekend’s meteor shower. EarthSky Facebook friend Allen Lefever captured this meteor this week. Thanks, Allen!
This constellation is fairly easy to find in 2012 because the dazzling planet Jupiter shines in front of Taurus this year. You can’t miss Jupiter lighting up the eastern sky at early to mid-evening, Next year at this time, Jupiter will be in the constellation Gemini, the radiant point for the December Geminid shower.
A dark, moonless night also highlights the Bull – the radiant point for the North Taurid meteors – in all his starlit majesty. Taurus contains many noticeable stars – plus two star clusters – and is pretty easy to spot. The Bull appears over the eastern horizon by around 8 p.m. The Bull’s face consists of a V-shaped star cluster called the Hyades cluster. The Bull’s fiery red eye – the star Aldebaran – is not part of the Hyades. This ruddy star lies in the same direction, though at only about half the distance to the Hyades cluster. The star Elnath marks the tip of the Bull’s northern horn. And the Pleiades star cluster marks the Bull’s shoulder.
The Bull climbs upward throughout the evening hours, to soar to his highest point for the night around 1 a.m. That’s why the meteors are best around then. Meteor showers are often best when their radiant point is highest in the sky.
Taurus descends westward throughout the morning hours, and is found over the western horizon by daybreak. Unlike some meteor showers, the North Taurids don’t exhibit a sharp peak, so comparable meteor rates might be in store for the next several days.
This is a good year for the slow-moving North Taurid meteors. They may exhibit as many as 10 meteors per hour during the few hours after midnight on Sunday, November 11 and Monday, November 12.