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Watch for Taurid fireballs this weekend?

Although a modest shower, perhaps offering 5 or so meteors per hour, the Taurid shower just might produce some fireballs in a dark sky free of moonlight.

View larger. | Taurid fireball caught by Eliot Herman in Tucson at 3:38 a.m. on November 1, 2015.  Thank you, Elliot!

View larger. | Taurid fireball caught in bright moonlight by Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona. Photo taken at 3:38 a.m. on November 1, 2015. Thank you, Elliot!

The South and North Taurid meteor showers aren’t known for their large numbers of meteors, but they are known for having a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. Last year, in 2015, there were reports of Taurid fireball sightings, including the one from Eliot Herman in Tucson, above. Beautiful, yes? The nominal peak of this shower in 2016 is said to be on November 5, centered on about 12:30 a.m. local time. The South (and North) Taurids have no sharp peak, so watch out for Taurid meteors – and possible fireballs – starting now and throughout the weekend. Although no fireball swarm is predicted for 2016, the moon-free sky will guarantee a dark sky for this year’s production.

How can you watch for Taurid fireballs? The good news is that the moon is now a waxing crescent, so it sets in the evening. That means no moonlight to intrude on the prime time viewing hours from late night till dawn, with the peak viewing coming just after the midnight hour.

In general, the South Taurids offer about 5 meteors per hour at their peak. However, the North Taurid shower adds a few more meteors to the mix. Although a modest shower, we can always hope to see a Taurid fireball or two in an inky-black sky.

Taurid meteors radiate from the constellation Taurus.

Taurid meteors radiate from the constellation Taurus.

The Taurid meteor stream consists of an extremely wide roadway of far-flung debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. When Earth travels through this belt of comet debris, bits and pieces of Comet 2P Encke smash into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to vaporize as rather slow-moving Taurid meteors (28 km/17 miles per second).

Apparently, the original Taurid stream has been perturbed by Jupiter into two branches: South and North Taurids.

Higher rates of Taurid fireballs might happen in seven-year cycles, and grand fireball displays took place in 2008 and 2015. No elevated levels of fireballs are expected in 2016, but the absence of moonlight should make this a good year for watching the South Taurid shower.

Last year, in 2015, the first report heard of Taurid fireballs was of one widely seen over Poland. If you click to this page, you’ll see some beautiful photos of that Taurid fireball, plus video.

We’re also hoping to hear reports of Taurid fireballs in 2016. Watch for them, especially in the wee hours after midnight.

Comet Encke, parent of the Taurid meteor shower. Image credit: Messenger

Comet Encke, parent of the Taurid meteor shower. Image via Messenger

Bottom line: We’ve hoping for at least a smattering of Taurid fireballs in 2016! It’s time to start watching for them. What to expect from the South Taurid shower, and when to watch.

Deborah Byrd