As long as the Earth revolves around the Sun, it passes through currents of cosmic debris. The resulting meteor rain can illuminate the sky from dusk to dawn, and if you are lucky you may be able to catch one.
If you bombard a meteor, what you’re really seeing is the icy comets crashing into the Earth’s atmosphere. Comets are like dirty snowballs: as they travel through the solar system, they leave behind dusty trails of rocks and ice that leave after long periods of space. When the Earth passes through these springs of comet waste, pieces of debris – which can be as small as a grain of sand – pierce the sky at such a speed that they burst, causing a display of celestial fireworks.
A general rule of thumb with a meteor shower: You are never seeing the Earth crossing into remnants from the comet’s most recent orbit. Instead, the burning bits come from previous passes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower, you see meteorites popping out when its original comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, visited in 1862 or earlier, not its most recent pass in 1992.
That’s because according to Bill Cook, an astronomer at NASA’s Office of Meteorological Environment, it takes time for debris from a comet’s orbit, where it rotates along Earth’s orbit.
The name associated with a meteor shower is usually associated with the constellation in the sky from which they originate, known as their bright form. For example, the Orionid meteor shower can be found in the sky when stargazers have a good view of the Orion constellation.
how to see?
The best way to see a meteor shower is to visit a place that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, it would be away from dark skies and city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of catching the show, look for a venue that offers a wide, unobstructed view.
Bits and fragments of meteorites appear for a certain period of time, but they actually appear from dawn to dusk in just a few days. Gone are the days when the Earth’s orbit passes through the thickest part of the cosmic current. Meteor rainfall can vary in its peak time, with some reaching their maximum for only a few hours and others for several nights. The rain is most visible after midnight and before dawn.
It is best to use your naked eye to shower meteors. Telescopes or binoculars limit your field of view. You may need to spend about half an hour in the dark to allow your eyes to be used in low light.
Stargazers should be warned that too much moonlight and weather can obscure a meteor shower. You can check the moon phase and your local weather report to see if you will get a good show.
Sometimes meteors are live streams online, such as those hosted by NASA or Sloah, if you do not have lights in your local sky.
Although the International Meteor Organization lists a variety of meteorites that can be seen, below you will find the rains that are most likely to appear in the sky this year. Peak dates may change during the year as astronomers update their estimates.
Active from 28 December to 12 January. Peaks around 2-3 January.
Quadrantids kick off their New Year fireworks show. Compared with most other meteor showers, they are unusual because they are thought to have originated from an asteroid. They faint with fewer streaks in the sky than others on this list.
Active from 14 April to 30 April. Peaks around 21–22 April.
Ancient Chinese astronomers have records to record these bursts of light more than 2,700 years ago. They fly around 1,07,000 mph in the sky and explode in the planet’s atmosphere for about 55 miles. This shower comes from Comet Thatcher, which revolves around the Sun in about 415 years. Its last visit was in 1861 and its next meeting with the Sun would be in 2276.
Active from 19 April to 28 May. Peaks around May 4-5.
Eta Aquariids, sometimes called Eta Aquarids, is one of two meteors of Halley’s comet. Its sister shower, Orionides, will peak in October. Specks from the Eta Aquariids draw streaks through the sky at about 148,000 mph, making it one of the fastest meteor showers. Its performance is better seen from the Southern Hemisphere where people enjoy 20 to 30 meteors per hour during their peak. Goes to see about half as much in the Northern Hemisphere.
Southern Delta Aquariids
Active from 12 July to 23 August. Peaks around 28–29 July.
They come from Comet 96P Macholz, which passes through the sun every five years. Its meteors, which number between 10 and 20 per hour, are the most visible predon, between 2-3 pm it is more visible than the Southern Hemisphere.
Active from 17 July to 24 August. Peaks around August 11–12.
Perseids bring the night sky to light when the Earth moves in pieces of cosmic debris left by cosmic swift-tuttle. The muddy snowball is 17 miles wide and takes about 133 years to orbit the sun. Its last go-round was in 1992.
Usually 160 and 200 meteors dazzle the Earth’s atmosphere every hour during peak performance. They zoom through the atmosphere at speeds of about 1,33,000 mph and burst the upper reaches of about 60 miles.
Active from 2 October to 7. November around 19-20 October.
The Orionids are an encore for the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaks in May. Both come from cosmic matter emanating from Halley’s comet. Since celestial celebrities orbit the Earth once every 76 years, this weekend offers a chance to see the remnant of the comet until the real deal passes through the next phase in 2061.
Active between 6 November and 30 November. Peaks around November 16–17.
Leonids are one of the brightest meteor showers, and every few decades it produces a meteor storm where over 1,000 meteors can be seen in an hour. Cross your fingers for some good fortune – the last time Leonids was strong in 2002. Its original comet is called Comet-Temple / Tuttle and it revolves around the Sun every 33 years.
Active from 4 December to 20 December. Peaks around 13–14 December.
The Geminids, along with the quadrantids that peaked in January, are thought to have originated not from comets, but from asteroid-like space rocks. Geminids are thought to have been created by an object called 3200 Phaethon. If you manage to see them, this meteor shower can illuminate the night sky with 120 and 160 mph winds.
Active from 17 December to 26 December. Peaks around 21–22 December.
Ursids illuminate the night sky around the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. They only shoot 10 to 20 meteors per hour. They radiate from Ursa Minor and come from Comet 8P / Tuttle.