If you want to spend Saturday night waiting for a bright fireball in the sky, all you need is a clear sky and a keen eye.
Temperatures are rapidly dropping in the northern hemisphere, but dedicated stargazers will be heading outside to watch for the slow-moving and incredibly bright shooting stars of the North Taurid meteor shower.
The North Taurid meteor shower isn't the best-known display, but it has the potential to be one of the most impressive meteor showers of the year. And, as it happens, November is a great month to watch the stars of winter return to the night sky.
What are the North Taurids?
Like most displays of shooting stars, the North Taurids are the result of Earth moving through a massive stream of dust in the solar system left behind by a comet. As they hit Earth's atmosphere, they heat up and glow, causing a meteor or shooting star to appear in the sky.
In the case of the North Taurids, the culprit is thought to be Comet 2P/Encke, a short-period comet that last passed through the solar system in March 2017, and will return in June 2020. Some of the debris is also attributed to Asteroid 2004 TG10, which may be a fragment of Comet Encke.
The North Taurids is a relatively slight meteor shower, producing only about 5 to 10 shooting stars per hour. Nonetheless, their slow-moving, bright nature make them a memorable show.
This is also a particularly long-lasting meteor shower, beginning on October 12 and ending on December 2. That's because the streams of debris are rather scattered, so Earth travels through them for quite some time.
What are the South Taurids?
The North Taurids peak in November just after a long-lasting sister meteor shower, the South Taurids, which is most easily viewable from the southern hemisphere. Since they peak in early November, the South Taurids are sometimes known as the Halloween fireballs. In 2017, the South Taurids' peak was washed out by a full moon.
Collectively, the North and South Taurids create shooting stars for viewers in both hemispheres. They will all seem to originate in the constellation of Taurus in October and November.
When Can I See the North Taurids?
The North Taurids are scheduled to peak on Saturday night, November 11, and continue through dawn on November 12. But your best chance to see a North Taurid fireball is around midnight, just because the moon is fully risen. Star-seekers may also glimpse a North Taurid fireball for a few evenings after the meteor shower's peak.
Where Can I See the North Taurids?
The debris stream from Comet Encke lies in the region covered by the constellation of Taurus: a V-shape of stars in the southeastern sky. While the shooting stars can appear anywhere in the night sky, they can all be traced back to the same origin (a very bright star cluster in Taurus called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters). To find this so-called radiant point, locate the three stars of Orion's Belt, which point straight up to the Pleiades.
Be sure to keep your eyes on the southeast, about mid-way between the horizon and the zenith — the point in the night sky above your head — and keep looking. Set-up a deckchair, have some blankets (and an extra layer) and a hot flask, and hope for clear skies.
When Will the North Taurids Come Back?
The North Taurids will return in 2018 from September 25 through November 25, peaking on the night of November 6 into the early hours of November 7. Next year, star gazers will enjoy the North Taurids during a new moon, which ensures dark skies all night long.