The south Taurid meteor shower, aka the "Halloween Fireballs," reaches its optimum intensity this weekend.
- The torrid trail of a Taurid meteor, photographed on Oct. 28, 2005, by Hiroyuki Iida in Japan. The Taurid meteor shower will be reaching its annual peak on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, 2011. (Courtesy of NASA)
The Taurid meteor shower is a little like the start of this season of Treme: slow and drawn out. The annual lightshow reaches its peak late Saturday/early Sunday, but the shower really stretches on for more than a week before and after that. The meteors are characterized by burning yellowish lines that seem to craaaawl across the sky in relation to their faster, zipping brethren.
These are pieces of interplanetary trash that are believed to have broken off of Comet Encke, a lonely traveler that orbits the Sun every three years and occasionally has its tail ignominiously blown off by the star's violent exhalations. A couple astrobiologists blame Encke, or whatever larger comet it broke off from, for exterminating the big mammals of North America about 13,000 years ago with an ungodly pounding of meteorites. That theory is certainly up for debate.
If you want to try to catch the Taurids, try driving far away from light-spewing cities and crunch a few Vivarin. The best time to see these astronomic wonders is after midnight on Saturday to dawn on Sunday. However, these meteors sometimes can flare up into blinding fireballs, so seeing one or two before midnight is possible. Fixate on the part of the sky around the constellation Taurus, a tuning-fork-shaped entity that will be in the eastern sky around 9 p.m. and overhead to the south after midnight. Here's a fine map.
It appears that some folks have already seen a few Taurids earlier this week. Over at the forums of the American Meteor Society, spotters have reported shooting stars with trails of "vivid, deep yellow" (in Georgia) or "golden yellow" (near Philadelphia). At its peak, the Taurids may produce around 10 glowing trails an hour, but night hounds should be on the alert in the days to come for random stragglers.