There are major meteor showers each month until the year’s end. Right now, the moon is barely past new, making this week ideal for watching a minor meteor shower called the Taurids. The best time to watch is after midnight, or when the constellation Taurus – the radiant for this shower – climbs highest up for the night.
There are two streams of Taurid meteors – known as North Taurids and South Taurids – and both are known to produce a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. Both showers are going on now.
The American Meteor Society explains what’s awesome about the Taurids:
The Taurids (both branches) are rich in fireballs and are often responsible for increased number of fireball reports from September through November.
Did we say fireballs? Yes! Two years ago, October and early November 2015, was an incredible year for the long-lasting Taurids. We received many, many photos of fireballs from watchful observers, which you can see here.
This year may not be as good for fireball-watching, but … the Taurids are well worth knowing about and watching for.
How many Taurid meteors might you see? Only a handful of meteors per hour at best, but a high percentage of these meteors may turn out to be fireballs.
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 (17 miles/28 km per second).
The original Taurid meteor stream was perturbed by Jupiter into the two branches: South and North Taurids. The South Taurids, the more prominent of the two, are active from about September 25 to November 25, whereas the (overlapping) North Taurids are active from about October 20 to December 10.
Experts were saying that the higher rates of Taurid fireballs in 2015 might have been the result of a seven-year cycle, given that the last grand display of Taurid fireballs happened in 2008. Perhaps the next banner year will be in 2022. Time will tell.
What about this year? Will there be an exhibition of fireballs?
The only way to know is to watch!
Bottom line: The long-lasting South and North Taurid meteor showers produce meteors throughout October and November. Watch for them.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.