Meteor showers are natures firework displays! On any given night you can observe meteors crossing the night sky. These may be small fast streaks or if your lucky long fiery displays that show lots of colours before disappearing into the night. These type of meteors are known as sporadic and are not associated with any meteor shower.
Meteor showers themselves are predictable (well as far as when they will occur) with astronomers planning for these events months if not years in advance. The names of meteor showers are given based on the constellation where they appear to radiate from.
||28/12 to 12/01
||03-01 to 04/01
||13/04 to 29/04
||18/04 to 27/05
||16/07 to 23/08
||12/08 to 13/08
||06/10 to 09/10
||07/10 to 08/10
||01/10 to 06/11
||08/10 to 09/10
||05/11 to 29/11
||17/11 to 18/11
||03/12/ to 16/12
The best of these are generally the Perseids which peaks on August 12th/13th, the Leonids peaking on November 17th and the Geminids peaking on the 13th/14th December. The very best time to see them is when there is no bright Moon, this when the fainter meteors can be seen.
Planning a meteor shower observing session
Like most things in astronomy, you need to have a plan before venturing out to enjoy a celestial event or just to generally enjoy the night sky. Meteor shower is no different and there are a few keys things that you must always keep in mind.
• Check the weather – there is no point venturing to a dark place when all you are going to see is cloud or rain! There are numerous weather Apps available to check your local forecast and neither is going to be better than another. We do recommend that you check no earlier than 48 hours beforehand as the forecast will generally be more accurate the closer to the date.
• Moon Phase – check the phase of the Moon is favourable. You will always see more meteors when there is a new Moon as the light from the moon will not drown them out. If the Moon is full then only the brighter meteors will be visible.
• It will be cold! – it doesn’t matter if it is the height of summer the nighttime is generally cooler than daytime. So wear appropriate clothing. You will be stationary for quite some time when looking up at the night sky.
• Get comfortable – the easiest way to enjoy a meteor shower is to lay on the ground. Get some insulation between you and the ground, especially during the winter showers. This way you will see more of the sky and be able to pick out those fainter meteors more easily. A sun lounger always works well!
• Don’t be confused! – Satellites are abundant in our night sky. These travel across the sky as points of light that appear to travel slowly (several minutes). Meteors are different! These travel rapidly across the night sky and last for a few seconds at most.
• Don’t look directly at the radiant!!! – the radiant is the point of origin for the meteor shower. If you look directly at this area of the sky then you will only see the occasional flash. However, if you look approximately 45o away from the radiant then the meteors will appear as streaks and much more enjoyable to the observer.
Public observing events
Many organisations such as astronomical societies, clubs, observatories and independent venues arrange public outreach events to coincide with meteor showers. Have a look at our events calendar for the above-mentioned dates to see if there’s an event near you. Meteor showers are also a great excuse to get away for a stay and gaze!
Our thanks go to Allan Trow from Dark Sky Wales for putting together this guide.