If recent events are making you anxious (and who could blame you), maybe you’d like to turn your eyes to the sky and distract yourself with what the heavens have to offer. The Northern Taurids meteor shower is now visible.
This shower and its sibling, the Southern Taurids (which peaks early in October), are not the most impressive meteor spectacles out there. During their peak, about five meteors per hour are visible, but what they lack in peak numbers they make up for in other ways.
The Northern Taurids tend to plateau in activity from early to mid-November, lasting for about 10 days. Given the Moon is currently waning (the last full Moon was the Halloween blue Moon), each night will be darker and darker, making the spectacle clearer.
Meteor showers are caused by the debris left over by celestial bodies crossing Earth's orbit. When our planet passes through these showers on its yearly trek around the Sun, some of this debris gets captured by Earth’s gravity and burn up in the atmosphere. These are what we call shooting stars.
The parent body of the Northern Taurids is asteroid 2004 TG10. It's a near-Earth object that's classified as potentially hazardous, meaning it could collide with our planet in the distant future. The object is on an eccentric orbit, going around the Sun every 1,220 days. The asteroid is believed to be a fragment of Comet Encke, the parent body of the Southern Taurids meteor shower.
The separation of the two celestial bodies and the spread of the two meteor showers is due to the pesky gravitational influence of Jupiter. The Northern Taurids are visible from October 20 to December 10. Some larger fragments are known to burn up during these showers, such as the bolide that crossed Polish skies in 1995.
The activity of the shower is fairly standard, with an uptick every decade and a significant increase every 3,000 years. That’s when the Earth crosses the densest part of the cloud. Unfortunately for us, it won’t happen again for another 1,980 years.