The South and North Taurid meteor showers aren’t known for their large numbers of meteors, but they do offer a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. This shower made a huge splash in 2015, when there were many, many reports and photos featuring Taurid fireball sightings. Higher rates of Taurid fireballs appear to happen in seven-year cycles. Grand fireball displays did indeed take place in 2008 and 2015. No elevated levels of fireballs are expected in 2020. Even so, watch for Taurid meteors – and possible fireballs – throughout November.
The nominal peak night for the South Taurids is November 5 while that of the North Taurids is about a week later, on November 12. This year, in 2020, the waning gibbous moon will intrude on the South Taurid peak, whereas the rather slender waning crescent moon will be much less of a problem for the North Taurid peak. But you might even see a Taurid or two despite the moon, given the high percentage of fireballs accompanying the Taurids.
The prime time viewing hours are from late night until dawn, with the peak viewing coming just after the midnight hour. In general, the South Taurids offer about five meteors per hour at their peak, but the North Taurid shower may add a few more meteors to the mix. How many you’ll see will depend on how far from city lights you are … and how bright the meteors are. If they’re bright enough, they’ll overcome skies beset by light pollution.
The Taurid meteor stream consists of an extremely wide roadway of far-flung debris left behind by Comet 2P/Encke. When Earth travels through this belt of comet debris, bits and pieces of Comet 2P/Encke smash into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to vaporize as rather slow-moving Taurid meteors (28 km/17 miles per second).
Apparently, the original Taurid stream has been perturbed by Jupiter into two branches: South and North Taurids.
Bottom line: South and North Taurid meteors – some of them bright fireballs – can be seen through late October and November, each year. 2020 isn’t expected to be a peak year, but you might catch a fireball if you watch!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded www.universalmotorsnc.com in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.