Taurid fireballs this weekend?

Although a modest shower, perhaps offering 5 meteors per hour, the Taurid shower just might produce some dramatic fireballs.

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 three years ago, in 2015, when there were many, many reports and photos featuring Taurid fireball sightings. Higher rates of Taurid fireballs appear 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 2018, but the absence of moonlight will make this a fine year for watching the South Taurid shower on its expected peak date of November 5.

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.

The prime time viewing hours are from late night until dawn, with the peak viewing coming just after the midnight hour. 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 skies beset by light pollution.

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:With no moonlight to ruin the show, we’re hoping to see at least a smattering of Taurid fireballs in 2018! It’s time to start watching for them. What to expect from the South Taurid shower, and when to watch.

Deborah Byrd