Possible fireballs in the 2016 Taurid Meteor Swarm
The Taurid Meteor shower can be one of the most interesting meteor events of the year as some years the meteor shower can become a meteor storm with spectacular fireballs lighting up the sky. This meteor shower peaks at the end of October and early November, and can produce what are called Halloween Fireballs.
The peak will be November 4-5 but it usually extends a few weeks around this time. I would start watching from around October 28 until November 12. Though, in fact, the Taurid meteors last for over 3 months.
Photo of a meteor fireball streak courtesy of Kim Myoungsung @ Flickr
Origins of the Taurid Meteor Shower
Every year Earth spends 3 months passing through the debris of the comet Encke, which leaves a huge steam of material in its wake. Most shooting stars are caused by dust specks hitting the earth, while some of the brighter meteors can be the size of a grain of sand. But the debris of Encke can be a little bigger than that, maybe the size of pebbles or small stones, resulting in a spectacular meteor swarm.
Another little bit of trivia about the Taurid Meteor Shower is that one of the meteors was recorded hitting the moon in November 2005, and was the first such live recording of a meteor strike on the moon.
A meteor shower is where you have more than 10 shooting stars an hour, a meteor storm is when you have more than 1000 an hour. A meteor swarm sounds like something you would need to drag Jeff Goldblum out of retirement again to fight (not that we wouldn't want to see that.) But is actually where there are bright meteor fireballs.
Photo of a meteor fireball streak courtesy of John Fowler @ Flickr
In 2005 the fireballs were so bright they would ruin people's night vision and were brighter than the full moon. This year astronomers are predicting that the Taurid Meteor Shower will bring some fireballs.
Viewing a Meteor Shower
Generally speaking, the best times to view meteor showers are between midnight and dawn and the Taurid Meteor Shower is no Exception. This shower should be visible everywhere around Australia.
The name comes from the fact the meteor shower appears to originate in the constellation of Taurus. However looking at Taurus does not give you the best chance of seeing shooting stars.
Image of the constellation Taurus courtesy of Till Credner @ All The Sky
Rather they shoot out in all directions from the point of origin. So normally this is about 30 degrees away from the point of origin. Some people are suggesting focusing on the belt of the constellation Orion.
If you not sure where those constellations will be in the sky, I suggest downloading a star map app for your phone or tablet. I am currently using Sky Map, but there are many other apps that are worth checking out. Just hold your phone up the sky and, if it is calibrated properly, it will show you a map of the sky you are pointing it at.
The Taurids generally promise about 10 shooting stars per hour, which is not that many. So get out of the city to a nice treeless location. I have friends that hike up mountains to watch meteor showers. Wherever you end up, often the best bet is to lie down on a blanket or sit on a lounge chair and just watch the sky.
Remember you can lose your night vision very easily, so avoid checking your phone or playing with settings on your camera. After all, it takes about 10-20 minutes for your eyes to adjust and just a few seconds to lose your night vision.
Of course, with the promised possibility of fireballs, you might be lucky and see shooting stars even from your backyard. However there is no guarantee of fireballs this year, but they are worth keeping on eye out for.
Photographing Shooting Stars
The first and most important thing you need to photograph a meteor is luck. After that, you will want a good camera, such as a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and a tripod.
Use the fastest lens that you have. The normal f3.5 lens is probably not going to cut it for this meteor shower, unless you get a fireball. A wide angle lens also helps, so that you can catch as much of the sky as possible.
Exposure lengths start at around 10 seconds, with maybe up to 30 seconds to catch a nice star field. The shorter exposure is sometimes necessary if there is other light sources around, including that always pesky moon.
This meteor shower could be a little disappointing, but with the possibility of fireballs, it could shape up into one of the best of the year. It is another reason to keep an eye on the night sky.