Gateway to the Stars November 2015: Marvelous Meteors

Nick Jarvis

When you’re stargazing throughout the year, your experience will differ depending on the season. From our place in the Northern Hemisphere, Summer gives us lovely warm nights and a spectacular view along the Milky Way while Winter features some of the brightest and most famous stars and constellations. November, in particular, is a special time for stargazing: the nights are getting nice and long but the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the extra hours of darkness without having to freeze off any of our extremities!

Temperature and non-frozen extremities aside, there are actually some very cool things in the sky worth checking out; and, in this month’s “Gateway to the Stars” we’ll take a look at the interesting features of this month’s sky so you can be fully prepared to enjoy the sights.

November is a great time to keep an eye out for meteors. On any given night, it’s usually possible to see one or two meteors per hour; however, sometimes the Earth’s orbit takes us through some light debris left behind by comets, and during these periods we get more meteors as this debris falls into the atmosphere. This is called a meteor shower, and we’ve got more than one coming our way this month.

Leonids as seen from space in 1997, NASA

Leonids as seen from space in 1997, NASA

Sometime around 20,000 or 30,000 years ago, a large comet broke apart, leaving behind a big chunk we now call Comet Enke as well as a field of smaller debris that has been spread out considerably from its original path. This debris trail is so wide that Earth takes many weeks to pass through it, roughly from mid-September to early December. In fact, the debris trail is so spread out that the meteor shower has two distinct peaks.These are known as the Southern and Northern Taurids?. The first peak should happen around November 4-5, and the second peak is around November 12-13. It should be possible to see around 5-10 meteors per hour during these peaks. That might not seem like much, but the Taurids have a reputation for sometimes producing bright fireballs. This is because its debris is a bit like a bunch of small pebbles, while the debris from other showers is often much smaller. For this reason, the Taurids are sometimes called the “Halloween Fireballs.”

Then, just as the Taurids start to taper off, we’ll be moving into a different debris stream left behind by Comet Tempel-Tuttle which produces the annual Leonid meteor shower. The Leonids should reach their peak around November 17-18, with a rate of about 10-15 meteors per hour, with some meteors also visible in the days before and after the peak.

In Gateway to the Stars, we’ll show you what to expect from these meteor showers, and we’ll give some tips on how to get the best possible views of the meteors we’re expecting this month.

"VST snaps a very detailed view of the Triangulum Galaxy" by ESO

“VST snaps a very detailed view of the Triangulum Galaxy” by ESO

We’ll also take a look around the sky to mark the positions of the planets, including the brilliantly bright Venus in the pre-dawn sky. And if you have a telescope, or even a good pair of binoculars, November is a great time to see some famous deep-sky objects. We’ll point out where to find the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies in our local group, and the Double Cluster in Perseus.

So again, lots of cool stuff to see! And as always, this is a great place to bring all of your questions and curiosities about stargazing, telescopes, and astronomy in general.

See you there!

Gateway to the Stars is hosted by Nick Jarvis on Saturday, November 7th at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theater. Tickets are $2.00, or free for planetarium members. Buy tickets here or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk.

Comments are closed.