New York timesJan 04, 2021 11:00:30 AM IS
Throughout the year, as long as the Earth revolves around the sun, it passes through streams of cosmic debris. The resulting meteor showers can light up the night sky from dusk until dawn, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch one.
If you notice a meteor shower, what you really see are the remnants of ice comets colliding with Earth’s atmosphere. Comets somewhat resemble dirty snowballs: As they travel through the solar system, they leave behind a dusty trail of rock and ice that remains in space long after it leaves. When Earth passes through comet litter cascades, bits of debris – which can be as small as grains of sand – penetrate the sky at burst speeds, creating a display of heavenly fireworks.
A rule of thumb with meteor showers: You never see the Earth crossing into the orbit remnants of another comet. Instead, the burnt out sections come from the previous lanes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower, you see meteors emitting from its parent comet, Comet Swift Tuttle, in 1862 or earlier, not from its last pass in 1992.
This is because debris from a comet’s orbit takes time to drift to a position where it intersects with Earth’s orbit, according to Bill Cook, an astronomer with NASA’s Bureau of Meteorology.
The name associated with a meteor shower is usually associated with the constellation in the sky from which it appears to originate, known as its radiance. For example, the Orionid meteor shower can be found in the sky when stargazers have a good view of the constellation Orion.
How to watch
The best way to see meteor showers is to get to a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, this would be somewhere with a dark sky, away from city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of viewing the show, find a place that offers a wide, unobstructed view.
Bits and pieces of meteor showers can be seen for a while, but in fact they clearly peak from dusk to dawn on certain few days. Those days are when Earth’s orbit crosses the thickest part of the cosmic current. Meteor showers can vary at peak times, with some reaching their maximum for only a few hours and others for several nights. The rains tend to be most intense after midnight and before dawn.
It’s best to use your naked eye to spot meteor showers. Binoculars or telescopes tend to limit your field of view. You may need to spend about half an hour in the dark to get your eyes used to the low light.
Star-watchers should be warned that too much moonlight and weather can obscure meteor showers. You can check moon phase and local weather report to see if you get a good view.
If your local skies aren’t lighting up, there are sometimes live streams of meteors on the Internet, like the one hosted by NASA or Slowh.
While the International Meteorological Organization lists a variety of meteor showers that can be seen, below you’ll find the showers most likely to be visible in the sky this year. Peak dates may change during the year as astronomers update their estimates.
Active from December 28 to January 12. It peaks around January 2-3.
Quadrantids presents its new year fireworks display. Compared to most other meteor showers, it is unusual because it is believed to have originated from an asteroid. They tend to be fainter with fewer streaks in the sky than others on this list.
Active from April 14 to April 30. It peaks around April 21-22.
There are records from ancient Chinese astronomers discovering these light explosions more than 2,700 years ago. It ignites in the sky at about 107,000 miles per hour and explodes 55 miles in the planet’s atmosphere. This shower comes from Comet Thatcher, which travels around the sun approximately every 415 years. Its last flight was in 1861 and its next date will be near the sun in 2276.
Active from April 19 to May 28. It peaks around May 4-5.
Eta Aquariids, sometimes known as Eta Aquarids, are one of two meteor showers from Comet Halley. Sister showers, Orionids, will peak in October. Patches of Eta Aquariids spread across the sky at around 148,000 mph, making it one of the fastest meteor showers. Its screen can be seen better than in the Southern Hemisphere as people usually enjoy between 20 and 30 meteors per hour during their peak. The Northern Hemisphere tends to see half that number.
Basins of the South Delta
Active from July 12 to August 23. It peaks around July 28-29.
They come from comet 96P Machholz, which passes by the sun every five years. Its meteorites, which number between 10 and 20 per hour, are more visible before dawn, between 2-3 am and tend to be more visible than in the Southern Hemisphere.
Active from July 17 to August 24. It peaks around August 11-12.
The Perseids light up the night sky as Earth collides with chunks of cosmic debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. A dirty snow globe is 17 miles wide and takes about 133 years to circle the sun. Her last tour was in 1992.
Usually between 160 and 200 meteors dazzle into Earth’s atmosphere every hour during peak viewing. They zoomed through the atmosphere at about 133,000 miles per hour and exploded about 60 miles at the top.
Active from October 2. Until November 7th. It peaks around October 19-20.
The Orionids are considered to be the appearance of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, which reaches its peak in May. Both come from cosmic matter emanating from Halley’s comet. Since the celestial star orbits Earth once every 76 years, bathing this weekend is your chance to witness comet remnants until the next real deal passes in 2061.
Active between November 6 and November 30. It peaks around November 16-17.
The Leonids family is one of the most dazzling meteor showers, and every few decades produces a meteor storm in which more than 1,000 meteors can be seen per hour. Get ready for some good luck – the last time Leonids was this strong was in 2002. Its original comet is called Comet-Temple / Tuttle and it orbits the sun every 33 years.
Active from December 4th to December 20th. It peaks around December 13-14.
The Geminids, along with the Quadrantids that peaked in January, are thought not to originate from comets, but from space rocks similar to asteroids. Geminids are thought to have been produced by an organism called 3200 Phaethon. If you could see them, this meteor shower could light the night sky with anywhere from 120 to 160 meteors per hour.
Active from December 17 to December 26. It peaks around December 21-22.
Ursids tend to illuminate the night sky around the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. They only release about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. It appears to be radiating from Ursa Minor and coming from Comet 8P / Tuttle.
Nicholas St. Fleur circa 2021 The New York Times Company is dead
“Coffee fanatic. Gamer. Award-winning zombie lover. Student. Hardcore internet advocate. Twitter guru. Subtly charming bacon nerd. Thinker.”