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The northern part of the Taurid meteor shower peaks this year on November 12th. Although the number of meteors per hour is low, the Northern Taurids often produces spectacular fireballs. As was the case in 2015, when more fireballs were seen than usual. When bright Taurids arrive, authorities are usually in for a busy night with a flurry of UFO reports. The event this year promises to be reasonably good as the 35% illuminated waning crescent Moon won't 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 when realised 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 (Northern Taurids (NTA) and Southern Taurids (STA)). The northern stream is the slightly better shower although both have low activity rates. The southern stream peaks on November 5th, but this year the almost full Moon will effectively wash out the shower. All Taurids meteors are associated with periodic comet Encke (2P/Encke), which orbits the Sun once every 3.3 years. This is 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 Pleiades (M45) open cluster. 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 around and 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 in Leo rises about an hour or so after midnight on the nights of November 11th/12th and 12th/13th. The rate for the Northern Taurids is 5 meteors per hour, but it can sometimes 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, which 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. This is because the meteors often appear many degrees from the radiant and even in a completely different region of sky. To be certain you have seen a Taurid, trace the trail in reverse and it will go all the way back to the radiant.

Looking southeast from northern temperate latitudes just before midnight on November 12, 2017 (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
Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR)5
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 March 10th, 2017
Next perihelion June 26th, 2020
NotesComet Encke has the shortest orbital period of any known comet