The Halloween Fireballs


Taurid fireball imaged on October 28, 2005 by Hiroyuki Iida.

The Taurid meteor shower runs from early October through late November each year and peaks in the early morning of November 12. This year, in 2015, that’s just a day after new Moon, which means the sky will be at its darkest for this event. Because they are active over Halloween, and they displayed an impressive outburst about 10 years ago at the end of October, the Taurids are sometimes called the Halloween Fireballs.

The Taurids occur as Earth passes through the debris-strewn path of a comet, in this case, the short-period Comet 2/P Encke. The gravitational influence of Jupiter has separated the debris stream into two segments, which means the Taurids have two peaks. The Southern Taurids are active from about September 10 to November 20 and peak on November 5, while the Northern Taurids are active from about October 20 to December 10 and peak on November 12.

Like most meteor showers, the Taurids are simply tiny bits of ice and dust that fell away from a comet and enter our atmosphere at high speed. The bits of debris that make up the Taurids are a little larger than average, so they can result in brighter meteors and even fireballs, or bolides, that streak across the sky and leave smoke trails in their wake.

The Taurids will be visible to observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and they can appear anywhere in the sky. If a meteor traces its path back in the direction of the constellation Taurus, that means it’s likely part of the shower. More meteors are typically visible after midnight as the Earth turns into the debris field of Comet Encke.

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