Taurid Meteor Shower Unexpectedly Lights Up California Skies
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While flashing lights over Southern California may have given some local residents flashbacks to old ‘X-files’ episodes, don’t expect to see ‘little green men’ running around anytime soon.
According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command weather department, the streak of light reported by citizens in Los Angeles county was probably part of the South Taurids meteor shower that dazzles skywatchers in early November each year.
“We’ve gotten numerous phone calls of people reporting seeing something bright —consistent with a meteor shower — over the eastern desert communities of San Diego,” Lt. Michael Munsey of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department told CNN.
The objects that are currently raining down on our atmosphere and causing a stir on social media platforms most likely came from Comet Encke that passes through the inner solar system once every three years. As the comet orbits our Sun, it leaves behind small bits of debris for the Earth to plow through each November as it travels around the Sun resulting in the Taurid meteor shower. Like all meteor showers, the Taurids are named after the constellation they seem to emanate from – in this case the constellation Taurus.
Sometimes considered among one of the more inferior meteor showers, the Taurids are known for producing abnormally bright fireballs caused by bits of Comet Encke dropping into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the Taurids tend to average just 10 to 15 visible meteors per hour.
“I saw this big, greenish flash like, light up the sky” on Wednesday night, eyewitness Matthew Isaacs, from Mission Viejo, CA told KCBS.” It was headed pretty sideways from like, east to west. I thought, ‘Is that a firework?’ And then I realized, that couldn’t be that big. It’s just in the middle of nowhere in a totally dark area where there’s no houses or anything where anyone would shoot fireworks. I thought, ‘Man, it must have been a meteor.”
The Taurids have actually split into the Northern Taurids and the Southern Taurids, which occurs as a meteor stream gets older. The divide occurs as gravitational forces from the planets and the Sun battle for control over the orbits of the comet’s debris. Because the planets are constantly moving, the particles pass closer to them on some passes — moving parts of the debris stream, fanning it out and dividing it.
Over time, an original stream disperses into a cloud of smaller streams and remote particles in individual orbits – resulting in the debris hitting Earth’s atmosphere at more widely spread times of the year and coming from more various directions. While the Southern Taurids can be seen from about September 10 to November 20, the Northern Taurids are visible from about October 20 to December 10. The Taurid stream is said to have a cycle of activity that peaks about every 2500 to 3000 years, with the next peak expected around the year 3000.
In 2005, NASA scientists observed an impact event while testing out a new 10-inch telescope and video camera. After consulting various charts, the astronomers concluded that the strike was probably part of the Taurid meteor shower.