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Taurid Fireball and Aurora 11.03.15 0129hrs PST

Taurid Fireball and Aurora via Flickr

I’ll try this weekend in Paradelle to see the North Taurid meteors. They are not the best known of meteor showers, but they are long-lasting showers. They have a sister shower, the South Taurids, and between the two they run from late October into November.

Tonight is the nominal peak of the North Taurids and it should be strongest in the hours around midnight local time.

But this neighborhood is not optimal for viewing – too much light pollution from cities, and tonight the waning crescent moon in the sky from midnight on won’t help.

But as with many celestial events – Full Moons at noon, distant planets, distant stars, the Milky Way – even if I can’t see it, I find comfort in knowing where to look and that it is out there.

The North Taurid meteors’ radiant point (origin) is in the constellation Taurus the Bull. It is near the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, in Taurus.  But you don’t need a star chart to see the meteors as they appear all over the sky. The Taurids are known for having some very bright fireballs. A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus as seen in the morning or evening sky. That’s quite bright and very visible.

Taurus rises over the northeast horizon around 7 to 8 p.m. at mid-northern latitudes and a few hours later for the Southern Hemisphere.  Give them a look.



If you wake up early tomorrow (January 4) and are in the Northern Hemisphere and the conditions are clear, you can see the Quadrantid meteors in the predawn hours.

The annual Quadrantid shower is nominally active during the first week of January, and is best seen from northerly latitudes but, unlike other meteor showers, peak activity lasts less than a day. You need to be on the night side of Earth at that peak.

The Quadrantid shower doesn’t get as much attention as other longer-lasting ones. I’m also giving it some publicity because I feel bad for the defunct 19th century constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant) that it is named after. It was located between the constellations of Boötes and Draco, near the tail of Ursa Major (Big Bear). I don’t know why, but it is no longer in use. Possibly, it refused to use social media and a smartphone and so faded into obscurity. It is not alone. There is a whole group of former constellations.


That is the “quadrant” constellation in the top left. I’m sure that sailors used it at one time for navigation when quadrants were in use.

Find a dark, open sky, and look in a general north-northeast direction for an hour or so before dawn and you  might see up to 50 or more meteors per hour, but its peak is short and sweet.

In any case, you can use the waning crescent Moon and nearby Mars to the right of it to guide you on a line of about 45 degrees to Jupiter shines to the right/west of the moon and Venus and Saturn waiting  low in the southeast/left during the dark hour before dawn.

star fall

Okay, the stars don’t fall. Or shoot. But debris from comets and meteors do sometimes give us a great show that looks like stars shooting across the sky and falling to Earth.

This year, the Geminids will peak between December 13 and 14 and there is a waxing crescent Moon after the New Moon which makes more favorable conditions for viewing them.

The Geminids can be annually observed between December 4 and 17, but it peaks around the 14th. I remember them because my mom’s birthday is the 15th and one year I watched the shower on her birthday with her and we saw several stars fall. She was thrilled.

The shower owes its name to the constellation Gemini from where the meteors seem to emerge in the sky.

The Geminids are different from most other meteor showers because they are associated with an asteroid instead of a comet. “3200 Phaethon” is the asteroid and it takes about 1.4 years to orbit around the Sun.

Compared to last month’s Leonid shower, the Geminids are pretty spectacular with the possibility of sighting around 120 meteors per hour at its peak.

The Geminids can be observed from locations all around the world and here in the Northern Hemisphere we look right after sunset until sunrise (in the Southern Hemisphere try after midnight).

You don’t really have to look in a particular direction to enjoy a meteor shower, but I have read that I should start by looking south.

Matisse - Fruit and Coffeepot

Henri Matisse – Fruit and Coffeepot (1898)

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.

It’s was clear enough this past week for me to have had the chance of seeing some of the meteors known as the Leonid meteor shower. I went outside and stared up into the deep, dark sky. But I didn’t see any shooting stars or fireballs.

Something I did see this past week was an article that noted that the poem “Sunday Morning” is 100 years old. That really surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me, because Wallace Stevens was writing in the early 1900s.

Sunday Morning” starts out pretty nice (as shown at the top of this post) with coffee and oranges, a woman in a negligee and a cockatoo hopping on the rug.  But Stevens isn’t really known for lightness.

I first read the poem in a college class and we dissected it. It is a serious poetic meditation, a philosophical poem about what might happen to us when we die.

The “pungent oranges and bright, green wings” very quickly transform into:
…things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

When “Sunday Morning” was published in 1915 in Poetry magazine, the Modernist movement was the thing. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” also was published that year.

So, on this Sunday morning, why am I connecting this poem and a night sky?

When I was staring up at the sky the other night, I was pulled into thoughts about old age and death. I don’t know that gazing into the universe at night causes those kinds of feeling for everyone, but eternity and the impossibility of it really do fit together.

I find that sometimes I have to fight moving from a happy moment of coffee and oranges to a sad one . They also fit together sometimes too. Something is so good that you start thinking about it being gone.

That night sky does make me think about eternity. It is the only thing I can see that comes close to being eternity.

Eliot’s Prufrock wonders

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

Do I dare even stare into that universe that reverses our decisions and revisions so easily?

What about an afterlife?

Stevens writes:

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?

I don’t find any comfort in the concept of an afterlife. I suppose that means I lack faith.  I never did believe, or perhaps I was afraid to believe. Even as a child, I found an afterlife frightening. It scared me that people who died were somewhere watching us.

Maybe I’m just feeling age building up in inside me.  I grow old. I already wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

More likely, I am feeling more in love with life and with those people I love. I don’t want them shooting off into space or eternity. I want them here.

It is a sunny, autumn Sunday morning after the terror attacks in Paris. I don’t have any oranges in the house, but I was just having coffee with my wife in her peignoir and I need to hold onto this morning well into evening and the night.

And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

The Leonid meteor showers are peaking this week, so I’ll be out tonight trying to catch a glimpse of them.

Their source is Comet Temple-Tuttle and the Leonids are known for producing meteor storms when the comet is in our neighborhood. But that is not expected this year and typically these are not one of the big meteor shows of the year. Predictions are for about 10-15 meteors per hour, but since the odds of seeing a falling star on a normal is practically zero, tonight and early tomorrow morning is a good gamble.

The Moon will “set” in late evening, so the skies will be dark from late night until dawn and that helps viewing in the light-polluted sky above Paradelle.

The radiant point of the Leonid shower is below the horizon in the constellation Leo the Lion, but the radiant point  will rise over the eastern horizon around midnight which is why it will be better to look in the hours before dawn. But you don’t need to look to a meteor’s radiant to watch the meteor shower. The meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.

taurid poland

Because of their occurrence in late October and early November, the Taurid meteor showers have gained the popular name of “Halloween fireballs.”

The Taurids are an annual meteor shower associated with the comet Encke. They are named after their radiant point in the constellation Taurus, where they are seen to come from in the sky.  Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces.

They are rather slow-moving (from our perspective) and so often make a good show. They usually peak from November 5-12.

According to, they are not known for having a great number of meteors, but  “a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors.”

The South Taurids should produce their greatest number of meteors – and hence their greatest number of fireballs – between midnight and dawn on November 5, 2015. Try watching on the morning of November 4.

Higher rates of Taurid fireballs seem to occur every 7 years and the last big display was in 2008, so 2015 should be a good year for viewing.

You may have seen some video on the news over the past Halloween weekend of some fireballs seen over Poland. The photos at top are from there and you can see the video here.

If you want to check what to look for in the sky on any day,  check out

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