Excited about cooler temperatures and fall activities? Be sure to save some of that outdoor enthusiasm for the night sky.
The Taurid meteor shower is a fairly long-running event, often producing visible fireballs for several weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and tends to offer more than one peak. In 2019, meteor activity from the Taurids is expected to be the highest for about a week between Nov. 4 and Nov. 12. 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.
The dust from the Taurids, which originate from debris left behind by Comet Encke, hits the Earth’s atmosphere at 65,000 miles per hour (104,000 kilometers per hour) and burns up, creating the Taurid meteor shower, according to NASA. Most years the shower is weak, and only a few Taurid meteors can be seen each night. Too much moonlight can interfere, too, and while viewing might be good for a few nights this month — thanks to a first-quarter moon that sets before midnight on Nov. 4, according to Space.com — it will likely deteriorate as the moon grows brighter and sets later each night, finally becoming full on Nov. 12.
Where and when to look
The Taurid meteor shower appears to radiate from the general direction of the constellation Taurus, whose brightest star is the red giant Aldebaran, located near the center of this image. (Photo: Baldas1950/Shutterstock)
The Taurids include two streams of meteors that broke off from Comet Encke in separate events. The South Taurids are the stronger of the two streams, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS), and have three shallow peaks during their duration: around Oct. 10, Nov. 1 and Nov. 15. The North Taurids peak near Nov. 3, and it's this overlapping one-two punch that creates the prolonged viewing window in early November, the AMS explains.
Like other night-sky events, it's best to seek a dark location far from light pollution and with an unobstructed view of the heavens. Look toward the constellation Taurus after it has risen above the horizon. Astronomers recommend waiting until after midnight, but there's a good chance you'll catch some fireballs with a little patience anytime after the sun has fully set.
Great balls of fire
What makes the Taurids produce a greater stream of large fireballs compared with 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 to 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 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 bundle up, kick back and take in one of the best meteor showers of the year.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was originally published in November 2015.