Night Sky Gaze

Viewing a Meteor Shower

Watching a meteor shower is truly a priceless experience that we think no one should miss. Here’s how and when to view.

What is a meteor?

Meteors are rocks that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The rock heats up as it pushes against the air, causing it to glow brightly. The trail it leaves is actually super-heated air.

A single meteor is often called a shooting star. But when you get a large number of rocks entering the atmosphere at one time, it’s a meteor shower!

A meteor shower happens when a comet passes close to the Earth in its elliptical orbit. The debris from the comet impacts the Earth’s atmosphere. Those meteors all appear to be coming from a particular point in the sky, called a radiant, giving the annual showers their names.

Meteor shower calendar

Annual meteor showers happen almost every month of the year. They vary in intensity from just 10-20 meteors an hour to over 100! The showers are named after the constellations closest to the radiant—the Perseids seem to come from the constellation Perseus, the Geminids from Gemini, and so on.

  • Quadrantids (January)
  • Lyrids (April)
  • Eta Aquariids (May)
  • Delta Aquariids (July)
  • Perseids (August)
  • Orionids (October)
  • Taurids (November)
  • Leonids (November)
  • Geminids (December)
  • Ursids (December)

The Perseids, which happen in mid-August every year, are probably the most popular meteor showers. However, dedicated stargazers can enjoy a celestial light show during any of the showers.

How to enjoy the best meteor shower viewing

Unfortunately, a full or mostly full moon will make viewing a meteor shower almost impossible. Always check the moon phase first. You’ll also need to find a place with minimal light pollution and a clear view of the sky. And, of course, clear skies are a must! If it’s overcast or cloudy, you won’t see anything.

Meteor showers usually start to pick up after midnight, so be prepared to stay up late. You should bring a chair or blanket, warm clothes, and plenty of water. The absolute best way to enjoy the show is to lie down on your back and gaze up at the sky without staring too hard at any particular point.

When is the next meteor shower?

Unfortunately, the 2019 Lyrids, which will peak on April 21, are competing with a nearly full moon. However, stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere can expect a good show on May 4 for the eta Aquariids. There’s a new moon that night, so plan to stretch out under the stars and watch the show.

Johnny Rodgers