Our planet is currently cruising through a long trail of cosmic dust and debris left behind by the Comet Encke, which itself could be the remains of a far larger ancient comet that has disintegrated over the eons.
No need to worry or pull out old vintage bomb shelter construction plans — this annual rubble run-in won’t result in any kind of epic apocalypse like the one the dinosaurs faced. Instead, it could generate some pretty memorable mornings, especially when it comes to the potential to catch sight of some fantastic Taurid meteors and breathtaking fireballs.
Famous meteor showers like the Taurids and Perseids happen when little pebble-size or smaller pieces of comets and other bodies slam into our planet’s atmosphere and burn up in spectacular style as fleeting “shooting stars” or blazing fireballs.
But unlike the Perseids, which tend to have a dramatic peak around a few days in August, the Taurids are a more consistent presence starting in October and persisting into early December. This week is expected to be the best week to view the Taurids from the northern hemisphere in 2021.
There’s two branches to the broad stream of space debris that create the Taurids: one is the parent of the southern Taurids that peak earlier in the season and are best seen from the tropics and below the equator. The other is progenitor of the northern Taurids, projected to peak Thursday evening and Friday morning and ideally seen from the northern half of the planet.
Stellar 2021 Perseid meteor shower shines in shots from around the world
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But according to the American Meteor Society, most mornings this week could yield up to twenty meteors per hour for patient observers under ideal conditions.
To have the best chance of catching a shooting star, or the more dramatic fireball that the slow-moving Taurids are known for, venture out a couple hours before sunrise away from urban light pollution and ideally with a moonless sky. Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust and at least an hour outside with a wide view of the sky for the best odds of catching a Taurid or two.
You can center the constellation of Taurus the bull in your view as the Taurids may appear to emanate from this part of the sky, but so long as you have a wide view of the sky, you’ll be in good shape for shooting star spotting.
Share any epic fireball photos you snag to me, @EricCMack, on Twitter.