Look up into the night sky this weekend, and you may just see a fireball streaking through the darkness.
As our planet rolls through a cloud of cosmic debris, we’re set for a spectacular display as part of the Taurid meteor shower. Fireballs, by the way, is just another word for an especially bright meteor.
What are the Taurids?
The Taurids are an annual meteor shower that peaks in late October and early November, giving them the affectionate nickname of ‘Halloween fireballs’.
They are associated with the comet Encke, and are believed to be caused by the debris of a much larger comet which broke apart thousands of years ago.
The meteors we see in the sky are fragments of that debris burning up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Their name comes from the fact that they appear to originate from within the area of sky dominated by the constellation Taurus.
They’re also made up of much larger material than other meteor showers. Where most showers involve grains of dust, the Taurids can be the size of a small pebble.
When’s the best time to see them?
The cloud of debris that causes the shower is one of the biggest in the inner solar system, which gives the Taurids an extended period of activity in the night sky.
The shower has actually been visible since around October 20, and is set to continue to be seen until roughly December 10. But it will be at its most active peak this weekend, across the evenings of November 11 – 12, so that’s your best chance to catch a glimpse.
How regular will the meteors be?
When it comes to the regularity of the Taurid meteor shower, they pale in comparison to their much more active cousins like the Geminids or Perseids (which can produce 100 meteors per hour).
The Taurids can only boast five meteors per hour at their peak, but there are rewards in store for stargazers willing to put in the time to spot one.
The Taurids enter the atmosphere slower than during other meteor showers, and they tend to be made of larger particles, which means they can create impressively bright fireballs in the sky.
Fear not. Though large fireballs have been reported around the time of the Taurid meteor shower in the past, they are nothing more than small chunks of rock burning up miles above our heads, at a speed of about 130,000 mph.
What do I need to see them?
Meteor showers are typically visible with the naked eye, and so no special equipment is needed to view the celestial spectacle.
The Taurids are even brighter than most, so you should have no trouble at all picking them out as they streak across the sky.
Of course, whether Britain will be subject to clear skies is another matter: the current forecast is for unsettled and rainy weather across the weekend.