All you need to know: Taurid meteors

Although a modest shower, perhaps offering 5 meteors per hour, the Taurid shower lasts over a month and is known for producing dramatic fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors.

Round full-sky panorama with bright streak and large spot of light near horizon.

Taurid fireball through light clouds – November 1, 2018 – by Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona. Notice the moon, just rising, on the left.

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 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 2020. Even so, watch for Taurid meteors – and possible fireballs – throughout November.

The nominal peak night for the South Taurids is November 5 while that of the North Taurids is about a week later, on November 12. This year, in 2020, the waning gibbous moon will intrude on the South Taurid peak, whereas the rather slender waning crescent moon will be much less of a problem for the North Taurid peak. But you might even see a Taurid or two despite the moon, given the high percentage of fireballs accompanying the Taurids.

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Bright streak with very bright head in starry sky above desert landscape.

Taurid fireball on the evening of October 21, 2017 – 10:27 p.m. – from Joanne West at Gold Canyon, Arizona. Eliot Herman in Tucson caught this same meteor. Read more about the 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 five meteors per hour at their peak, but the North Taurid shower may add 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.

Star chart of constellation Taurus with radial arrows from point near one end.

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.

Fuzzy, bright round ball with long faint tail against star field.

Comet Encke, parent of the Taurid meteor shower.

Bottom line: South and North Taurid meteors – some of them bright fireballs – can be seen through late October and November, each year. 2020 isn’t expected to be a peak year, but you might catch a fireball if you watch!

Deborah Byrd