The northern part of the Taurid meteor shower peaks this year on the night of November 11/12th. Although the Zenith Hourly Rate or the number of meteors that can be seen per hour under ideal conditions 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. In addition, this year's event has good prospects as the New Moon will not interfere at all.
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. 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 or 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.
What to expect
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.
Northern Taurids Data Table
|Meteor shower name||Northern Taurids|
|Meteor shower abbreviation||NTA|
|Activity||October 20th -> December 10th|
|Peak Date||November 12th|
|RA (J2000)||03h 52m|
|Notes||Taurids 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)
|Classification||Encke-type comet (NEO)|
|Discoverer||Pierre Méchain, Johann Franz Encke first recognised the periodicity|
|Discovery date||1786 (orbit computed by Encke in 1819)|
|Semi-major axis (AU)||2.21430|
|Orbital period (years)||3.29513|
|Longitude of ascending node (degrees)||334.572|
|Last perihelion||November 21st, 2013|
|Next perihelion||March 10th, 2017|
|Notes||Comet Encke has the shortest orbital period of any known comet|