2014 Meteor Showers

The next meteor shower is the Perseids on the nights of August 11 and 12

The just-past-full Moon will overpower most of the fireworks.

Name Date of Peak Moon
Quadrantids Night of January 2 Just past new
Lyrids Night of April 21 Rises around 3 a.m.
Eta Aquarids Night of May 5 Sets after midnight
Comet 209P/LINEAR Night of May 23 Early morning crescent
Perseids Night of August 12 In view most of the night
Orionids Night of October 21 Dawn crescent
Leonids Nights of November 16/17 Early morning crescent
Geminids Night of December 13 In view after midnight

NOTES These are approximate times for the Lower 48 states; actual shower times can vary. Bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest meteors.

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or "shooting stars" that streak through the night sky.

Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each shower appear to "rain" into the sky from the same region.

Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.

What are shooting stars?

"Shooting stars" and "falling stars" are both names that describe meteors -- streaks of light across the night sky caused by small bits of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids vaporizing high in Earth's upper atmosphere. Traveling at tens of thousands of miles an hour, meteoroids quickly ignite from the searing friction with the atmosphere, 30 to 80 miles above the ground. Almost all are destroyed in this process; the rare few that survive and hit the ground are known as meteorites.

When a meteor appears, it seems to "shoot" quickly across the sky, and its small size and intense brightness might make you think it is a star. If you're lucky enough to spot a meteorite (a meteor that makes it all the way to the ground), and see where it hits, it's easy to think you just saw a star "fall."

How can I best view a meteor shower?

Get away from the glow of city lights and toward the constellation from which the meteors will appear to radiate.

For example, drive north to view the Leonids. Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises. Perseid meteors will appear to "rain" into the atmosphere from the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast around 11 p.m. in mid-August.

After you've escaped the city glow, find a dark, secluded spot where oncoming car headlights will not periodically ruin your sensitive night vision. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites.

Once you have settled at your observing spot, lie back or position yourself so the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision, with the stars and sky filling your field of view. Meteors will instantly grab your attention as they streak by.

How do I know the sky is dark enough to see meteors?

If you can see each star of the Little Dipper, your eyes have "dark adapted," and your chosen site is probably dark enough. Under these conditions, you will see plenty of meteors.

What should I pack for meteor watching?

Treat meteor watching like you would the 4th of July fireworks. Pack comfortable chairs, bug spray, food and drinks, blankets, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps and charts without ruining your night vision. Binoculars are not necessary. Your eyes will do just fine.


©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory