Meteor Shower to Peak Tonight Ahead of 800-Foot Asteroid's Close Approach to Earth

The Northern Taurid meteor shower is reaching its period of highest activity tonight, just three days before an asteroid nearly 800 feet wide flies past the Earth.

The meteor shower peaks on the night of November 11-12, although it will remain active until December 10, according to the American Meteor Society.

On this night, the waning crescent moon will be only 15 percent full, so viewing conditions should be favorable in the relatively low moonlight—depending on the weather where you are.

The Northern Taurid shower overlaps with its sister shower, the Southern Taurid, which is active between September 10 and November 20. Both are known for producing a relatively high proportion of fireballs—essentially, very bright meteors—when they coincide at this time of year.

With both showers, this fireball activity appears to be remarkably high every seven years. The last extremely active year for fireballs was 2015, but the number that appear each year tends to be unpredictable.

The Northern Taurid shower tends not to produce a very strong peak so it will likely not be possible to see more than five meteors per hour, although some Southern Taurid meteors may also be visible, EarthSky reported.

The best time to watch the Northern Taurid shower is in the hours around midnight. In this time period, the point from which the meteors appear to originate—known as the radiant—will be high in the sky, well above the horizon.

The radiant of the Northern Taurid shower is in the constellation Taurus, close to the Pleiades star cluster. But you don't need to look towards this region to see the meteors as they will streak across all parts of the sky.

For the best viewing conditions, head to an area away from light pollution where you have a clear view of the sky. You won't need any special equipment to see the meteors, but it may be worth bringing a reclining chair as some time may pass before you spot one.

The peak of the Northern Taurid shower comes just days before a large space rock, dubbed 2020 ST1, is scheduled to fly past the Earth.

The asteroid will make its close approach at 3:45 a.m. ET on November 14—at which point it will be just over 4.5 million miles from Earth, while travelling at about 18,000 miles per hour, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

The object is estimated to measure up to 787 feet in diameter, which is slightly taller than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Fortunately, astronomers know the orbit of this asteroid well, so there is no chance it will strike the Earth in the foreseeable future. But if a space rock of this size did collide with our planet, it could cause widespread devastation.

asteroid
Stock image showing an asteroid. An 800-foot-wide asteroid will sail past the Earth this weekend. iStock