A meteor is a space rock — or “meteoroid” — that enters Earth’s atmosphere. As the rock falls toward Earth, the resistance — or drag — of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot. It gives off a bright light, and becomes what we know as a “shooting star.” When Earth encounters many meteoroids at once, we call it a meteor shower. The meteoroids come from comets that leave a trail of rocks along their path.
The Northern Taurid meteor showers have been spotted in the sky since this October, but the annual shower will peak on November 11 and 12, according to the American Meteor Society. The Northern Taurids are visible from the Northern Hemisphere. (The Southern in the Southern Hemisphere) During this time, Earth will be going through the densest part of the debris stream of comet 2P/Encke, the celestial body giving rise to the Northern Taurid showers, according to Bill Cooke Jr., who heads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.
Encke’s Comet was the first recurring comet discovered after Halley’s Comet. It was first observed by astronomers Pierre Méchain and Charles Messier in 1786. Encke is a short-term periodic comet that orbits the sun about once every 3.3 years, though the meteors are seen every year.
Stargazers can expect to see about five fireballs per hour during the peak nights, Cooke said. Despite the fiery name, fireballs are perfectly safe to view and will not hurt anyone. Though they don’t have a high rate, the Northern Taurids can rival the Moon in brightness. The best time to view the meteor shower will be after midnight in your local time zone. Light pollution from cities can make it difficult to see, so head to a place with little to no artificial lights.
The shower will continue through December 10. If you miss the Taurid meteor showers, not to worry: The Geminids meteor shower will be peaking mid-December.
To find Taurus, look for the constellation Orion and then peer to the northeast to find the red star Aldebaran, the star in the bull’s eye. Don’t look directly at Taurus to find meteors; the shooting stars will be visible all over the night sky. Make sure to move your gaze around the nearby constellations. Get comfortable on your back and look up in wonder.