There's been a light show in night skies recently and it's heating up right now as the annual Taurid meteor shower reaches its peak.
The Taurids aren't especially known for producing an abundance of fleeting "shooting stars" like August's Perseids, but they do have a reputation for generating a few especially bright, long-lasting and spectacular fireballs like this one seen over Arkansas on Nov. 2:
The Taurids occur between October and December every year when the Earth passes through debris clouds left by Comet Encke and the asteroid 2004 TG10. There are actually two branches of the meteor shower, the northern and southern Taurids, which have rather vague and broadly defined peaks of activity. But indications are that Monday night and the rest of this week should be a great opportunity to look for more fireballs from the southern branch while the northern Taurids build toward a peak on Nov. 10 to 11, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS).
The cloud of debris producing these meteor showers is larger and more dispersed than others our planet passes through, which is why the Taurids are spread out over several weeks. Also, they're composed of larger bits of space rock -- heavier pebbles compared to smaller grains. They also move slower than in other meteor showers, which is what gives us the longer-lasting, brighter-burning fireballs.
To catch a Taurid fireball, the best strategy is really just to spend as much time under the clear night sky as you can and to be alert as possible. But if you're more dedicated and feeling lucky, you could find yourself a dark location away from city lights with a full, clear view of the night sky. From there just lay back, look up and relax. The AMS says it might be possible to see as many as five Taurid meteors per hour this week.
And, of course, if you happen to catch any particularly awesome fireballs on video, please share the footage with me on Twitter @EricCMack.
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