The Taurid meteor shower is set to peak this weekend, and stargazers across the UK could be in for some spectacular sights. The meteor shower is one of the slower ones of the year, producing an average of five shooting stars an hour at its peak. The Northern Taurid meteor shower, which will peak this year on 12-13 November in the Northern Hemisphere, is part of a greater meteor shower which includes the Southern Taurid that peaked last month. This is a rare annual treat for stargazers, as even at their peak, the Taurids are not particularly frequent, although they do provide a sprinkling throughout the two months of October and November.
Meteor showers are created when the Earth passes through debris left behind by passing comets, like dust and gas. When this debris falls into the Earth’s atmosphere, its burns up to form a shooting star or meteor.
In Taurid’s case, “the Earth ploughing through debris left behind by Comet Encke”, according to Royal Museums Greenwich. The comet stream is very spread out and dispersed, which is why it takes the Earth a relatively long time to pass through.
This also explains why we see two separate segments of the shower: the South Taurids (10 September – 20 November) and the North Taurids (20 October – 10 December).
Since the North and South Taurids are two fragments of the same debris cloud and they are similar in density, so the peaks are about the same.
The Royal Musuems Greenwich advised that meteor showers are best seen with a good, clear view of the stars on a night with no clouds, so it is best to check what the weather in your area will be like this weekend.
They said: “Try to find somewhere with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution. The Taurids are not particularly dramatic – use this as a chance to familiarise yourself with the night sky.
Perhaps you’ll catch a lucky shooting star while you’re out there. Make sure there are no direct sources of light in your eyes, so that you can fully adapt to the local conditions and ensure that fainter meteors become visible.
“There’s no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope; just look up with your own eyes to take in the widest possible view of the sky.”
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“Hunting for meteors, like the rest of astronomy, is a waiting game, so it’s best to bring a comfy chair to sit on and to wrap up warm as you could be outside for a while.
“They can be seen with the naked eye so there’s no need for binoculars or a telescope, though you will need to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark.”
Thwse comets often disintegrate or break up due to the gravitational encounters with Earth or other planets. This phenomenon also explains why are are so many pieces similar to Encke floating through the inner solar system.
In 1982, two British astronomers, S. V. M (Victor) Clube and William Napier, theorized that a huge fragment of Encke’s parent body was responsible for producing a a 5-megaton explosion over Tunguska, Siberia in June 1908.
The Taurid meteors are named so because if you trace the path that the meteors take, they appear to originate from a point in Taurus constellation.