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. There’ve been reports this weekend of some great Taurid fireball sightings, including the one from Eliot Herman in Tucson, above. Beautiful, yes? The peak of this shower is coming up this week. The South Taurids should produce their greatest number of meteors – and hence their greatest number of fireballs – between midnight and dawn on November 5, 2015. Try watching on the morning of November 4, too, and even on the mornings before that. The fireballs are flying!
How can you watch for Taurid fireballs? The good news is that the moon is now waning. Last quarter moon is early morning on November 3, according to clocks in North America. There will be a bright moon between midnight and dawn that morning, but the moon will be less and less obtrusive on the following mornings, leading up to the peak on November 5.
And remember these are fireballs we’re watching for. A little moonlight shouldn’t hinder them, as the photo above by Eliot Herman clearly shows.
In general, the South Taurids typically offer about 7 meteor per hour at their peak. However, the other Taurid shower – the North Taurids – always adds a few more meteors to the mix during the South Taurids’ peak night.
It’s the bright ones you really want to see, after all.
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 the last grand fireball display was in 2008. That could be good news for Taurid-watchers in 2015!
By the way, the first report I heard of Taurid fireballs this weekend 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.
Bottom line: We’ve been hearing reports of Taurid fireballs! 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 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.