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Watch for Taurid fireballs!

We’ve been talking about the South Taurid meteor shower for a month now, and some have already captured photos of meteors in this long-lasting (but relatively minor) shower. Various sources give wildly different dates for the peak date of the South Taurids, and tonight – November 4, 2016 – is one of those predicted dates. Thus tonight and tomorrow night (November 5) both might feature a higher-than-average rate of South Taurid meteors.

There are actually two streams of Taurid meteors. Both the South and North Taurids, which peak in November, are long, spread-out showers with no well-defined peak. If tonight and tomorrow are peak nights, you can expect the average number of Taurids (around 5) to increase to around 7. But The American Meteor Society explains what’s awesome about these meteor showers:

The Taurids (both branches) are rich in fireballs and are often responsible for increased number of fireball reports from September through November.

Yes! Fireballs are the name of the game for the Taurids.

Eliot Herman in Tuscon, Arizona caught this bright Taurid on October 28, 2016. Go to his Flickr page to see it larger. Nice colors!

Eliot Herman in Tuscon, Arizona caught this bright Taurid on October 28, 2016. Go to his Flickr page if you want to see it larger. Nice colors!

Seeing a Taurid fireball – even if it’s just one – counts as a big thrill. And, by the way, a fireball is just another word for a particularly bright meteor.

What’s more, for once, the moon is cooperating.

The moon is now in a waxing crescent phase. Setting in the early evening, that means no moonlight to ruin the prime time viewing hours, centered on about 12:30 a.m. local time.

We’re guaranteed to have deliciously dark skies for the South Taurids tonight and tomorrow, to highlight any Taurid fireball that might come whizzing by.

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

You can see this meteor is radiating from the constellation Taurus the Bull. See that V-shaped pattern to the right of Orion? The three Belt stars of Orion point to it. That’s the Bull’s Face. Eliot Herman in Tucson caught this Taurid meteor, too, in 2015. The bright object was the moon! Thanks, Elliot.

The other Taurid shower – the North Taurids – should add a few more meteors to the mix from late night until dawn.

And again … the Taurid showers do not exhibit strong peaks. So if you’re clouded out tonight and tomorrow, no problem. Just keep watching. The two Taurid showers tend to overlap and to plateau in activity during the first few weeks in November.

On any given night, these rather slow-moving meteors produce the greatest numbers in the few hours after midnight.

Skywatchers are still remembering the Taurid fireballs they saw in 2015. The Taurids appear to have a 7-year cycle of bright fireballs, and 2015 was apparently a peak year! Read more about that, and see more fireball photos, here.

If you trace the South Taurid meteors backwards, they all appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus the Bull. As always, you don’t have to identify a meteor shower’s radiant point to watch the meteor shower. Just lie back comfortably and look up, in the hours between midnight and dawn.

By the way, the constellation Taurus itself is full of interesting things to see such as the Pleiades star cluster, the V-shaped Hyades cluster with bright Aldebaran in its midst.

Just be aware … you don’t need to find Taurus to watch the Taurid shower, for these meteors streak all over the sky.

View larger. | The three stars of Orion always point to Aldebaran, the fiery eye of the Bull in the constellation Taurus.

Bottom line: The annual South Taurid meteor shower has been going on throughout October, and now the North Taurids have started at well. The peaks of these showers aren’t well defined. What’s cool about them are the possibility of fireballs, or very bright meteors … watch for them!

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EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2016

See it! Best photos of 2015 Taurid fireballs

Bruce McClure