Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces and releasing material by normal cometary activity or perhaps occasionally by close encounters with the gravitational field of Earth or other planets (Whipple, 1940; Klačka, 1999). In total, this stream of matter is the largest in the inner solar system. Due to the stream's size, the Earth takes several weeks to pass through it, causing an extended period of meteor activity, compared with the much smaller periods of activity in other showers. The Taurids are also made up of weightier material, pebbles instead of dust grains.
Typically, Taurids appear at a rate of about 7 per hour, moving slowly across the sky at about 17 miles per second (27 kilometers per second), or 65,000 miles per hour. If large enough, these meteors may become bolides, with spectacular light shows and even audible sound.
Due to the gravitational effect of planets, especially Jupiter, the Taurids have spread out over time, allowing separate segments labeled the Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids to become observable. Essentially these are two cross sections of a single, broad, continuous stream in space. The Beta Taurids, encountered by the Earth in June/July and which many astronomers consider the cause of the Tunguska event, are also a cross section of the stream. Beta Taurids approach from the Earth's daytime side; so cannot be observed visually in the way the (night-time) Northern and Southern Taurids of October/November can.
The Taurid stream has a cycle of activity that peaks roughly every 2500 to 3000 years, when its core passes nearer to Earth and produces more intense showers. In fact, because of the separate "branches" (night-time in one part of the year and daytime in another; and Northern/Southern in each case) there are two (possibly overlapping) peaks separated by a few centuries, every 3000 years. Some astronomers note that dates for megalith structures such as Stonehenge are associated with these peaks.
The next peak is expected around 3000 AD, suggesting that the Taurids may also be responsible for the Star of Bethlehem. It has been suggested that in 1 AD, there were Taurid meteor showers due to the Encke tail encountering Earth and breaking up
The Taurids also have more frequent peaks which may result from a heavier concentration of material in the stream, which only hits Earth during some passes.
Some consider the Bronze Age breakup of the originally larger comet to be responsible for ancient destruction in the Fertile Crescent, perhaps evidenced by a large meteor crater in Iraq. The origin of the swastika has also been connected with Comet Encke.
Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., 83, 711-745.
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