The Taurids are an annual meteor shower, associated with the comet Encke. The Taurids are actually two separate showers, with a Southern and a Northern component. The Southern Taurids originated from Comet Encke, while the Northern Taurids originated from the asteroid 2004 TG₁₀. this year the full Moon will be an issue as the shower peaks on November 2.
A meteor is a space rock or meteoroid that enters Earth’s atmosphere. As the space rock falls toward Earth, the resistance or drag of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot. What we see is a “shooting star”. That bright streak is not actually the rock, but rather the glowing hot air as the hot rock zips through the atmosphere. When Earth encounters many meteoroids at once, we call it a meteor shower.
How is it that Earth encounters many meteoroids at once? Well, comets, like Earth and the other planets, also orbit the sun. Unlike the nearly circular orbits of the planets, the orbits of comets are usually quite lop-sided or eccentric.
As a comet gets closer to the Sun, some of its icy surface boils off, releasing lots of particles of dust and rock. This comet debris gets strewn out along the comet’s path, especially in the inner solar system (where we live) as the Sun’s heat boils off more and more ice and debris. Then, several times each year as Earth makes its journey around the sun, its orbit crosses the orbit of a comet, which means Earth smacks into a bunch of comet debris.
The meteoroids are usually small, from dust particle to boulder size. They are almost always small enough to quickly burn up in our atmosphere, so there’s little chance any of them will strike Earth’s surface. But there is a good chance that you can see a beautiful shooting star show in the middle of the night!
In the case of a meteor shower, the glowing streaks may appear anywhere in the sky, but their “tails” all seem to point back to the same spot in the sky. That’s because all the meteors are coming at us at the same angle, and as they get closer to Earth the effect of perspective makes them seem to get farther apart. It’s like standing in the middle of railroad tracks and seeing how the two tracks come together in the distance.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation where the meteors appear to be coming from. So the Taurid’s are named after the constellation Taurus the Bull.