Luminous Sky This Week

~3 min

Two curious astronomy events will occur next to each other this week. First, the Northern Taurids, famous for the bright fireballs, producing their peak of activity. Next, shining brightly, Mercury travels away from the Sun, reaching the greatest western elongation. Both events are worth your attention.

The Northern Taurid meteor shower

The annual Taurid meteor shower consists of two components — the Northern and the Southern streams. They are named after the constellation Taurus, where they appear to come from. Both streams are relatively long-lasting: the Southern branch is active from September 10 till November 20, and the Northern one lasts from October 20 till December 10. We gave more details about the Southern Taurid Meteor Shower in the article about October meteor showers.

Such an extended period of activity is caused by the origin of the meteor shower. Taurids, in general, are associated with the comet 2P/Encke, but supposedly they are the remnants of a much larger comet. This comet disintegrated over the past 30,000 years, releasing lots of widely spread out material into space. The Earth takes longer than usual to pass through it in comparison with other meteor showers.

The Northern Taurid meteor shower is peaking on the night of November 11-12, 2020. But start looking up now and watch for the Northern Taurids around midnight, when they appear the strongest. Expect around five meteors per hour with a condition of dark skies. Prepare to see the meteors slowly move across the sky and leave behind smoke trails. Fortunately, the Moon will be in the waning crescent phase and won’t become an obstacle.

To denote the Taurids peak of activity in late October and early November, astronomers sometimes call these meteors Halloween fireballs. Taurids are commonly known for their extra-bright meteors. For example, around Halloween in 2005, people worldwide reported luminous bolides that lit up the night sky. During the Southern Taurid meteor shower in 2013, the same show was spotted over southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

There is more activity in our atmosphere that is linked to the Taurid meteor shower. On November 14, 2017, at around 11:45 a.m. EDT (16:45 GMT), a football-sized meteoroid entered Earth’s atmosphere about 50 kilometers northeast of Darmstadt, Germany. The media widely reported it since the meteoroid created a truly apocalyptic view in the sky. It looked like a bright streak of light on its way to the Earth. Ollie Taylor, a photographer from Dorset, UK, managed to capture this amazing scene — the photo you can see at the top of this article.

Mercury at the greatest western elongation

On November 10, 2020, at 11:42 a.m. EDT (16:42 GMT), Mercury will reach its greatest western elongation or the greatest separation from the Sun. The planet will be shining at a magnitude -0.6. Usually, the maximum elongation angle for Mercury varies between 18° and 28°; during this elongation, the planet will reach a maximum separation of 19° to the Sun’s west.

Mercury is quite challenging to see since its orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth’s. Due to this, it always appears closer to the Sun and fading away in the Sun’s glare. But after the planet reaches the greatest elongation, it becomes observable for a few weeks, as it's located farthest away from the Sun. These events repeat once every 3–4 months and occur in the morning or evening skies, depending on whether Mercury lies to the Sun’s east or west.

To follow the most interesting celestial events, set on notifications in the Star Walk 2 app. The app will notify you about the next meteor shower, conjunction, opposition, Full Moon, eclipse, etc. Just open the app, go to the “Notifications” section, and select the options you need. There is a simple video guide on our website on how to get notified about astronomical events.

Wishing you clear skies and happy stargazing!