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.
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.
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.
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 created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.