SANTA MONICA, CA – Was a green fireball that recently treated at least 500 people in 13 states who happened to be staring at the sky at the right time an “incredibly bright” Taurid meteor? And will the typically productive Leonids throw off similar spectacles when the rain hits Santa Monica this week?
The Leonid meteor shower – known for producing fast, bright meteors when the earth plows through a trail of debris left by comet 55P / Tempel-Tuttle – peaks shortly before sunrise on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
That of course depends on the weather. AccuWeather named low clouds and sun on Tuesday, with a 50 percent chance of rain. Wednesday’s low clouds may break up and the high is expected to hit 65, with a low of 53. Thursday will have similar temperatures with low cloud that could break through, with highs near 64 and low of 53.
November is always a fun month for skywatching, but especially this year. A blood lunar eclipse during the full frost moon Thursday and Friday will be the longest running lunar eclipse of the 21st century, according to NASA (more on that later).
The annual shower lasts until November 30th, has a cyclonic peak every 33 years, and spits out hundreds of meteors an hour, the last time it happened in 2001. In normal years one reckons with about 15 shooting stars per hour.
A nearly full moon will be a chore for meteorite observation, but if the Leonids produce fireballs, even bright moonlight cannot extinguish them. As always, the darker the sky, the better, and it is best to plan your visit around the moonset on peak mornings – between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on the east coast.
The much-discussed Taurid fireball of November 10th was reported by nearly 500 people in 13 east coast states. A Patch reader commented that she was “thrilled to see the green fireball in Hawthorne, New Jersey”. “So did my husband,” she wrote, “so I know I wasn’t crazy. It was amazing.”
By the way, the Taurid meteor showers – that’s plural because they’re made up of two different branches, the South and North Taurids, both of which are rich in fireballs – will last until December 10th. Both currents have peaked, the Northern Taurids from November 11th to 12th. shortly after the green fireball was reported on November 10th.
The big event this week is the lunar eclipse, which will be seen in all 50 states on Thursday night and Friday morning. Technically, it is a partial solar eclipse, but from our point of view on earth it will appear as a total solar eclipse. At the height of this event – which lasts 3 hours, 28 minutes and 32 seconds – our planet will block 98 percent of the sunlight from reaching the lunar surface in a reddish hue.
The lunar eclipse will peak at 6:47 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday. AccuWeather says the skies will be cloudy and some sun will give way.
Usually the light of the sun turns the face of the moon off-white. But when the solar eclipse peaks on the 19th around 4 a.m. Eastern Time, the moon is bathed in a reddish hue.
A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the moon crosses the earth’s penumbra or penumbra and only part of it passes through the darkest shadow or umbra. A total or almost total lunar eclipse like this is often referred to as a “blood moon” for this reason.
Lunar eclipses only occur during a full moon. Indigenous peoples tracked the seasons when the moon was full, and November is known by different names – full frost moon, beaver moon, and dark moon.
The approaching cold full moon – or long moon or moon before Yule nights – on December 19 could affect the peak of December 13-14
Geminid meteor showers, but this annual sky show that competes with the Perseids in August produces shooting stars bright enough to rival moonlight, according to Earthsky.org.
Multi-colored meteors fly at speeds of 50 to 120 per hour at their peak, which, like most meteor showers, occurs between midnight and sunrise. The shower runs from December 4th to 17th.
The last meteor shower of 2021, the Ursid meteor shower, runs from December 17th to 26th. The peak is always on December 21st, the winter solstice. The Ursids are quite reluctant, delivering five or 10 meteors per hour, but on rare occasions can produce eruptions of 100 or more meteors per hour. The meteors seem to come from the constellation Ursa Minor.