Fireballs, Sunspots, and a Space Station in the Night Sky

All visible Monday night

taurid nasa
NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org

Celestial gazers have seen several unusual happenings in the night sky this weekend, and tonight promises more eye candy for keen observers. 

This Saturday, a viewer in Sterling noticed a bright orange fireball streaming across the sky.

News4's Tom Kierein says that fireball was part of the Taurid meteor shower, which takes place when the Earth passes through a debris field left by a passing comet.  While some meteor showers are marked by numerous shooting stars falling within a short period, the Taurid shower is caused by larger pieces of debris.  That means these meteors are big and slow-moving - looking like a streaking fireball.

The shower's peak ends tonight, so observers with a lot of patience have a chance of catching another one.  They happen very infrequently - the maximum rate for Taurid meteors is 7 per hour.

Also visible tonight, the International Space Station.  There is a ten-minute window for those in the D.C. area to watch it pass overhead - from 5:25 p.m. to 5:35 p.m.  With the time change and the earlier nightfall, observers will have a better chance to watch.  Tom Kierein says for the best chance, you'll need to be in an area without many trees or buildings, because the station will be passing low on the horizon - around 30 degrees high.

If that's not enough heavenly fun, there is even more unusual astronomical phenomenon tonight.  David Abbou in Stafford used a telescope and digital camera to capture a powerful sunspot group, pictured here.  The solar flare activity on the surface of the sun is the most

This is the most solar flare activity seen on the surface of the sun since 2005.  The spot, caused by fluctuations in the Sun's magnetic field, will be turned towards the Earth for at least another week.

Observers SHOULD NOT look directly at the spots with the naked eye.  Use an appropriate solar filter on a telescope or other eye protection.

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