November is when meteors produced by both branches of the Taurid meteor stream will be most active, starting this weekend with the Southern Taurids.
Taurid meteor shower: Where and when to look
The Taurid meteor stream, known for its bright fireballs, gives stargazers a chance to catch a glimpse every fall.
The meteor shower known for its stream of bright fireballs is set to become more active over the next few days, giving stargazers the perfect opportunity to catch glimpses of its spectacular display.
Both the Northern and Southern Taurid meteor streams are visible for several weeks each fall as Earth passes through the debris stream left by Comet Encke. November is when meteors produced by both branches of the Taurid meteor stream will be most active, starting this weekend with the Southern Taurids.
Here’s what you need to know about the Southern Taurid meteor shower and the upcoming peak.
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When can you see the Southern Taurid meteor shower?
Taurid meteors can be seen when the constellation Taurus is above the horizon between September and November, according to NASA.
Lasting for weeks, Taurid meteor streams tend to be slower with higher visibility compared to other meteor showers such as Orion and Perseid.
Even at its peak, neither the Southern nor the Northern branches of the Taurid meteor stream are very common, producing only about five meteors per hour. But the meteors they produce are larger and brighter, leading to increased fireball activity when they are active at the same time, according to the American Meteorological Society.
While the Southern Taurids are active between Sept. 23 and Dec. 8, astronomers expect the sky light show to be most visible on Sunday and Monday.
The Northern Taurids, active between Oct. 13 and Dec. 2, will peak around Nov. 11 and Nov. 12.
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The Taurid meteor shower lights up the night sky with fireballs
One of the hottest meteor showers of the year puts on a dazzling spectacle of fireballs lighting up the sky.
How to watch the Taurid meteor shower
The Taurids, which appear almost anywhere in the constellation Taurus, can be seen almost anywhere on Earth except the South Pole.
The best time of day to see the work is usually after midnight and before dawn. That’s when the moon won’t interfere with the show and the constellation Taurus, the shower’s bright point from where it originates, is high in the sky, according to Earth Sky, a website dedicated to astronomy and Earth science.
Located in the northeast of the Orion constellation, Taurus can be seen by finding the bright red star known as Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster. And as long as the astronomers are in a dark place, equipment like telescopes and binoculars should not be necessary to view the celestial light show.
“Meteor hunting, like all other astronomy, is a waiting game, so it’s a good idea to bring a comfortable chair to sit on and wrap up warm as you can be outside for a while,” according to the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) .
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What causes the Taurid meteor shower?
Often called shooting stars, meteors are produced when debris enters and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The resulting meteor showers occur when Earth moves through a cloud of comet debris.
Astronomers believe that the meteors produced by both Taurid streams are debris left behind by Encke’s comet.
While Encke’s comet was discovered in 1786 by French astronomer Pierre FA Mechain, the comet was named after German astronomer Johann Franz Encke who calculated its orbit, according to NASA.
Thought by some astronomers to be a fragment of a larger comet that broke up tens of thousands of years ago, Encke has the shortest orbital period of any known comet in the solar system, taking 3.3 years to orbit the sun.
Each time comet Encke returns to the inner solar system, its relatively small nucleus pours ice and rock into space to create a massive debris stream.
The stream of debris is scattered over such a large space that it takes the earth a long time to pass through it. That’s why we see two parts of the same debris cloud, according to RMG: the Northern Taurids and the Southern Taurids.
Eric Lagatta covers the best and best stories for USA TODAY. Reach him at email@example.com