Excited about the unusually warm temperatures and sunshine as November kicks off? Be sure to save some of that outdoor enthusiasm for the night sky.
From Nov. 5-12, the annual Taurid meteor shower will peak for sky watchers in North America. Unlike other celestial fireworks from recurring showers like the Perseids or Leonids, the Taurids aren't so famous for their frequency as they are for the extremely bright fireballs. Residents of Bangkok experienced this first-hand Monday evening after a large bright green meteor shot across the city's skyline.
Better than average?
The Taurids, which originate from debris left behind by Comet Encke, are likely to put on a particularly good show this year. Since late October, astronomers have been reporting higher-than-usual instances of meteors, with Earth likely passing through a once-in-a-decade dense concentration of debris.
"The annual Taurid meteor shower is going on right now, and we are seeing steady activity in our meteor cameras," said Bill Cooke, head of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office. "Individuals should not be surprised if they see a bright meteor or fireball over the next few nights."
The other favorable factor is the lack of a full moon, which will disrupt viewing. The next full moon won't occur until Nov. 25.
Where and when to look
A sky map showing the location of the north and south Taurids. (Photo: Star Chart)
The Taurids include two streams of meteors that broke off from Comet Encke in separate events. The south Taurid peaks from Nov. 5-6, while the north peaks from Nov. 11-12. This one-two punch is what creates such a prolonged window to catch the shower in action.
Like other night sky events, it's best to seek out a dark location far away from light pollution and with an unobstructed view of the heavens. Look towards the constellation Taurus after it has risen above the horizon. Astronomers recommend waiting until after midnight, but you'll likely catch some fireballs with a little patience anytime after the sun has fully set.
Great balls of fire
So what makes the Taurids produce a greater stream of large fireballs compared to other meteor showers? One theory is that Comet Encke is a piece of what was once a "super-comet" that broke up in our solar system some 20,000-30,000 years ago. The remains of this super comet (with average sizes ranging from pebbles to small stones) may account for the larger-than-normal fireballs that accompany the Taurids.
Despite their appearance blazing high above, Cooke revealed in a recent Reddit AMA that we've nothing to fear from these celestial fireworks.
"The odds of a Taurid making it to the ground are small, but if one did make it, it would likely weigh less than a couple of kilograms," he wrote. "The damage caused by this would be very small (broken car window, etc.). Most people think meteorites are these smoking-hot rocks in the middle of a crater, when the truth is the exact opposite. By the time a meteorite hits ground, it is cool enough to handle, and unless it is really big, there is no crater produced."
So enjoy what remains of the warm weather, lay down on your back, and take in one of the best meteor showers of the year. With two shows to choose from, you're bound to see something spectacular fly across the night sky.