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The northern part of the Taurid meteor shower peaks this year on November 12th. Although the number of meteors that can be seen per hour is low the Northern Taurids often produces spectacular fireballs. When bright Taurids arrive authorities are usually in for a busy night with a flurry of UFO reports. Unfortunately, the almost full Moon in Pisces will significantly interfere.

Parent Comet and Radiant

The Taurids have long been identified as an old meteor stream with the first recorded observations made in 1869. Despite frequently seen during the remainder of the 19th century it wasn't until 1918 it was realised that a new shower had been found.

Comet Encke in January 1994 (credit:- Jim Scotti/JPL)

Although originating from the same parent comet the Taurids have now spread out to create two individual showers, the Northern Taurids (NTA) and the Southern Taurids (STA). The Northern Taurids is the slightly better shower although both have low activity rates. The meteors are associated with periodic comet Encke (2P/Encke) which orbits the Sun once every 3.3 years; the shortest period of any known comet. Comet Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet which disintegrated sometime over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years.

The radiant for the Northern Taurids is large and centred at +3h 52m and +22 degrees. This part of the sky is located in the northwest section of the Taurus and only 3 degrees southeast of the famous naked eye open cluster M45 the Pleiades. Northern Hemisphere observers are best placed to spot the meteors although they can be seen from locations much further south as well. As with most meteor showers the best time to look is after midnight.

Northern Taurids Radiant and Star Chart (credit:- freestarcharts)

Northern Taurids Radiant and Star Chart - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

What to expect

The Moon is the main issue this year and it will wash out all but the brightest meteors. However, it's still worth looking out on the nights of November 11th/12th and 12th/13th. The rate for the Northern Taurids is 5 meteors per hour although it sometimes can be slightly higher. When the meteors strike the atmosphere they do at a relatively slow speed of 30km/sec (67,500 km/hour or 42,000 miles/hour). Often many bright fireballs are visible that move slowly across the night sky leaving spectacular trails in their wake. As with all meteor showers it's best not to look directly at the radiant itself, the meteors can appear many degrees away from it in and even in a completely different area of sky. To be certain you have seen a Northern Taurid trace the meteor trail back and it should go all the way to the radiant.

Looking southeast from northern temperate latitudes just before midnight on November 12, 2016 (credit:- freestarcharts/stellarium)

Northern Taurids Data Table

Meteor shower nameNorthern Taurids
Meteor shower abbreviationNTA
Radiant constellationTaurus
ActivityOctober 20th -> December 10th
Peak DateNovember 12th
RA (J2000)03h 52m
DEC (J2000)+22d
Speed (km/s)29
Parent body2P/Encke
NotesTaurids have now spread out over time to become the Northern Taurids (NTA) and Southern Taurids (STA)

Comet 2P/Encke Data Table (at epoch August 21, 2012)

ClassificationEncke-type comet (NEO)
DiscovererPierre M├ęchain, Johann Franz Encke first recognised the periodicity
Discovery date1786 (orbit computed by Encke in 1819)
Aphelion (AU)4.09236
Perihelion (AU)0.33625
Semi-major axis (AU) 2.21430
Orbital period (years)3.29513
Inclination (degrees) 11.7773
Longitude of ascending node (degrees)334.572
Last perihelion November 21st, 2013
Next perihelion March 10th, 2017
NotesComet Encke has the shortest orbital period of any known comet