It may surprise you to learn that Earth collides with fragments of the solar system every day. We can see a flash in the night sky if they hit Earth in the form of a shooting star, which is more formally called a meteor. If you’ve ever seen a meteor shower, you know they can sometimes resemble a celestial fireworks show. However, they’re usually more subdued, producing a visible meteor every few minutes. This means that you can expect to see a fair number of shooting stars during a late-evening or early-morning observing session.
This meteor shower calendar will tell you where to watch a meteor shower and provide you with the most opportune times to watch these dazzling celestial displays.
Tips for Observing Comet Bits
Meteors travel on nearly parallel paths. Due to perspective effects, they appear to be spreading out, or radiating, from one particular region in the sky as they plummet into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.
Meteor showers are named after this radiant; for example, meteors of the Perseid meteor shower will seem to be flying away from the northern constellation Perseus. But individual meteors may flash into view well away from the radiant point. To enjoy the show, don’t just stare toward the radiant. Settle back facing in the general direction of the radiant, but for the best viewing let yourself take in the whole portion of the sky in that direction.
The best meteor shower viewing tends to be when the moon is down, or only a thin crescent, so it won’t drown out the rest of the night sky. Prime viewing time is after midnight, when the night sky is in the front windshield position as Earth orbits the sun, and meteors are more likely to hit it.
Your July-December Meteor Shower Calendar
The American Meteor Society lists meteor showers that will peak between July and December. Some are faint, or best seen from the southern hemisphere, or may be washed out by a bright moon.
Sky & Telescope‘s meteor shower calendar focuses on eight showers that should be fairly visible from North America. Here is the list, with when and where to watch a meteor shower, and the approximate number of meteors you might see during an hour’s viewing.
- Delta Aquariid: July 29; peak pre-dawn morning; face south; up to 20 meteors per hour.
- Perseid: Aug. 12; peak pre-dawn morning; face northeast; up to 90 meteors per hour.
- Draconid: Oct. 7; peak pre-dawn morning; face north; anywhere from 10-100 meteors per hour.
- Orionid: Oc. 21; peak pre-dawn morning, face southeast; 10-20 meteors per hour. (These meteors, like May’s Eta Aquariids, originate from Halley’s Comet.)
- Southern Taurid: Nov. 5; peak pre-dawn morning; face south; 10-20 meteors per hour.
- Leonid: Nov. 17; peak pre-dawn morning; face east; 10-20 meteors per hour.
- Geminid: Dec. 14; peak pre-dawn morning; face south; expect 100-120 (!) meteors per hour.
- Ursid: Dec. 22; peak pre-dawn morning; face north; about 10 meteors per hour.
Of these showers, says Sky & Telescope, the best shows can be expected from the Perseids in August, the Draconids in October and the Geminids in December.
The Perseids are a popular favorite, often featuring a meteor a minute or better. The moon will be rising that night, but later in the evening on Aug. 11, they could provide good viewing before the moon comes up, and may offer bright fireballs crossing half the sky before they burn out and disappear.
December’s Geminids are another ever-popular classic, with plenty of meteors; this year the moon will be out of the way on the evening of Dec. 13. These meteors derive from asteroid 3200 Phaethon that has some comet-like characteristics.
In between these perennial faves, October’s Draconids would usually hardly rate a mention. But every so often they can produce a spectacular storm with up to 150 meteors in an hour. These seem to result from eruptions of the parent comet, Giacobini-Zinner, observed nearly 300 years ago, in 1704 and 1711. Meteor experts suspect that this October could see another exceptional showing from the Draconids.