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Taurid fireballs this weekend?

Although a modest shower, perhaps offering 5 meteors per hour, the Taurid shower just might produce some fireballs under the light of the full moon.

Taurid fireball on the evening of October 21, 2017 – 10:27 p.m. – from Joanne West at Gold Canyon, Arizona.

The South and North Taurid meteor showers aren’t known for their large numbers of meteors, but they do offer a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. This shower made a huge splash two years ago, in 2015, when there were many, many reports and photos featuring Taurid fireball sightings. Higher rates of Taurid fireballs appears to happen in seven-year cycles. Grand fireball displays did indeed take place in 2008 and 2015. No elevated levels of fireballs are expected in 2017, and the presence of moonlight will make this a difficult year for watching the South Taurid shower, which peaks on November 5. However, if you watch from a country location, you might find Taurid fireballs overcome the moon’s glare.

So watch out for Taurid meteors – and possible fireballs – starting now and throughout the weekend.

Taurid fireball caught on the evening of October 21, 2017 – 10:27 p.m. – by Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona. This is the same meteor as that caught by Joanne West, in the image above. Read more about these 2 photos.

How can you watch for Taurid fireballs? Moonlight will interfere on the prime time viewing hours from late night until dawn, with the peak viewing coming just after the midnight hour. Still, if you’re in a country location, be watchful. Maybe grab a lawn chair and bask under the moonlight for an hour or two, keeping an eye out for meteors.

In general, the South Taurids offer about 5 meteors per hour at their peak, but the North Taurid shower may a few more meteors to the mix. How many you’ll see will depend on how far from city lights you are … and how bright the meteors are. If they’re bright enough, they’ll overcome the bright moonlight.

Taurid meteors radiate from the constellation Taurus.

Taurid meteors radiate from the constellation Taurus, but they’ll appear in all parts of the sky.

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.

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

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

Bottom line: Despite the bright moon, we’re hoping for at least a smattering of Taurid fireballs in 2017! It’s time to start watching for them. What to expect from the South Taurid shower, and when to watch.

Deborah Byrd