Forget candy — the real treat this year will be bright and colorful shooting stars.
Go spend an hour stargazing during late October and you’ll probably see an eye-catching fireball or two. These very bright meteors coming from the constellation of Taurus are known as the Southern Taurids, a long-lasting meteor shower that’s active from late September until mid-November. It peaks in late October when around seven or so shooting stars can be seen each hour.
What are the Southern Taurids?
A relatively minor meteor shower that officially runs from Sept. 23 until Nov. 19 in 2018, the Southern Taurids are one of the longest-lasting meteor showers of the year. It’s not especially prolific, but since they tend to be exceptionally bright "fireballs" that leave a visible trail as particles blast off the Earth’s atmosphere, the Southern Taurids are worth braving the cold for.
What are the Northern Taurids?
Overlapping with the Southern Taurids meteor shower is the Northern Taurids, another minor meteor shower that’s merely shifted a month later. Beginning on Oct. 19 and carrying on until Dec. 10, 2018, the Northern Taurids can also produce unusually bright shooting stars.
What causes the Taurids meteor showers?
Both the Southern Taurids and the Northern Taurids are the leftovers of Comet Encke, officially called 2P/Encke, which orbits the sun every 3.3 years. That makes it the most frequent comet in the solar system that we know of. As they get closer to the sun and warm up, comets tend to shed a lot of material, thus creating a stream of dust particles. If a comet’s path crosses the orbital path of Earth, there’s a good chance that Earth will later bust through that stream of debris. The result is shooting stars.
How to see the Taurids meteor showers
Look skywards around midnight on Halloween. Since astronomers predict that there will be only seven or so (albeit very bright) shooting stars each hour, the best way to spot a Southern or Northern Taurid meteor is simply to go stargazing during mid- to late-October. Since the full moon — the Hunter's Moon, or Travel Moon — will be bright and a major light-polluter on Oct. 24, that makes the week after ideal for stargazing. That’s Halloween.
Where to look in the sky for Taurids meteors
Although the bright shooting stars from the Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers can be seen anywhere, both showers have "radiant points," a precise place in the night sky where their shooting stars appear to have come from. Wherever you see a shooting star in the sky, if you can trace it back to the constellation of Taurus high in the southern night sky, you know it was a Southern or Northern Taurid (there are always other, random shooting stars in the night sky).
The Taurids appear to come from close to the Pleiades star cluster, an unmistakably bright "fuzzy" patch of stars also called the Seven Sisters.
When is the next meteor shower?
Peaking on the night of Dec. 13-14, 2018 is the Geminid meteor shower, the biggest and most important of the entire year. Though it’s cold outside in the northern hemisphere and few stargazers get outside for long, it’s worth persevering for Geminds since they can produce up to 120 multi-colored shooting stars per hour.
So if you’re trick-or-treating this Halloween, look skywards and you may just glimpse a super-bright fireball.