November 6 – No Bull

Today’s factismal: The Taurid meteor shower looks like it is coming from Taurus the bull.

One of the cool things about the Earth is how often it gets hit by a meteorite. On average, 42,000 meteorites hit the Earth every year. That works out to be about 150 strikes each day! But some days are more average than others, and we are having a few of those days right now because we are in the middle of the Taurid meteor shower.

Named for Taurus the bull, which is the constellation just to the right of Orion as you look at it in the sky, this meteor shower happens when the Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris of comet Encke. As comets move closer to the Sun, they heat up and begin to outgas (which means just what it sounds like: they start to give off gas in noxious clouds {like Uncle Joe} and in large jets {like Aunt Sally}). The outgassing also breaks off small chunks of the comet which form a giant debris trail in the sky. Most of these chunks are about the size of a grain of sand, but some can be much larger. When the debris from the comet meets the Earth’s atmosphere, they create the meteor.

These eight images show how much gas is jetted off of a comet in just half an hour! (Image courtesy NASA)

These eight images show how much gas is jetted off of a comet in just half an hour!
(Image courtesy NASA)

Encke is pretty famous in astronomical circles; it was the second periodic comet every discovered (after Halley’s comet). A large reason for it being discovered was the fact that it has a very short period – just 3.3 years! Thanks to that short period, Encke has been shedding tons of dust and rocks into space. And thanks to that shrot period, we are fairly sure that Encke itself is the remains of a larger comet that broke apart some 20,000 years ago. Because it is so new, Encke has created one of the largest and broadest swaths of cosmic debris in the Solar system. Instead of lasting for a few days, the Taurid meteor shower typically lasts for a month!

The best place to watch a meteor shower, ever! (Image courtesy NASA)

The best place to watch a meteor shower, ever!
(Image courtesy NASA)

And if you’d like to do more than just ooh and aah at the pretty meteor as they burn up, why not download NASA’s Meteor Counter App (available for iPad, iPhone, and iWannaMeteor)? You’ll be able to send NASA scientists valuable information on the number of meteors that hit during the shower. To get the app, go to the iTunes store:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/meteor-counter/id466896415

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