This week, the night sky will light up with a flurry of bright meteors.
The annual South Taurid meteor shower centers around the constellation Taurus and peaks every year between November 5 and November 12. The event is generally fairly tepid, but astronomers say it could bring a rare burst of super-bright meteors this year.
Some stunning early Taurid fireballs were spotted on Halloween weekend lighting up the skies from Poland to Thailand. These dashcam videos taken in the last few days snag amazing footage of fireballs racing across the sky.
Like most annual meteor showers, the Taurids are the leftover debris shed from a comet. When Earth passes through the cloud of particles that follows the comet’s path, the individual meteors, traveling upwards of 60,000 miles per hour (100,000 km per hour) burn up in the upper atmosphere in a fraction of second, leaving behind what we call shooting stars.
The Taurids usually put on a pretty modest show compared to other showers. But this year, astronomers say we might hit a particularly dense part of the cloud and see a swarm of fireballs, or at least a few extra-bright meteors, technically called bolides. These are baseball to basketball-sized rocks that produce a particularly bright when they enter the atmosphere. Sometimes there’s even a distinct smoke trail left behind, which just adds to the awesomeness.
A sister shower known as the North Taurids will mix and overlap with the South Taurids this year, particularly on the nights of November 5 and 6. That should add several more meteors per hour.
While the shower greatly favors the Northern Hemisphere, the best views from any location will happen in the hours after local midnight, when Taurus rises higher in the southeastern sky.
To watch them, face a southeasterly direction, where you’ll find Taurus and the V-shaped pattern of stars that forms the mythical bull’s head high above the horizon.
No need for telescopes or binoculars—this celestial show is best seen with just your unaided eyes, since meteors appear to zip across large portions of the overhead skies. To catch all the meteors, it's best to head from light-polluted city to the dark countryside, where there are clear views of the overhead skies. A reclining lawn chair will help make viewing the shooting stars more comfortable, and keep you from getting a sore neck after staring up at the sky.
Don’t forget to bring a blanket, some hot chocolate, and lots of wishes to make on shooting stars.