2023 is a reasonably good year for meteor showers gracing our night skies. Few are out of our reach because of unfavorable viewing conditions, but the big two: Perseids and Geminids can be seen without moon interference.
Simple though these events are, these dust trails create some of the most beautiful and mesmerizing night time viewing that can last from hours to days.
In a sky where meteors can appear anywhere and at random intervals, how do you spot these showers? And how do you record them?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
This comprehensive guide is aimed at making your meteor hunting experience less daunting and more pleasurable by walking you through the best meteor showers this year, where to look for them, and how you can make the most of your adventure.
2023 Meteor Showers At a Glance
|Eta Aquarids||May 5-6||Aquarius||100%||120|
|Southern Delta Aquarids||July 30||Aquarius||95%||15-20|
|Alpha Capricornids||July 30||Capricornus||95%||<5|
|Taurids||Nov 4-5 (southern)|
Nov 11-12 (northern)
|Ursids||Dec 21-22||Ursa Minor||74%||5-10|
A full moon or close to full moon conditions will wash out a couple meteor showers, but we have pretty decent conditions less affected by moonlight for two of the bigger meteor showers: Perseids and Geminids.
Keep an eye out for Eta Aquarids too — this year, they will be twice as active, with up to 120 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak on the night of May 5-6, NASA astronomer Bill Cooke told Space.com.
Keep reading for full details on each shower.
The Lyrids | April 22-23, 2023
The best time to watch this year’s Lyrids is in the wee hours of April 23. It will be only 3 days after a new moon, so we expect the sky to be meteor shower-friendly.
The shower’s radiant will rise before midnight and reach its highest point in the sky at dawn. Not only will the moon be only 8.7% full, but it will comfortably set at 11:45 pm PST (UTC-8:00), after which the night sky will be optimal for spotting these fireballs.
This year, the Lyrids will occur from April 14 to 30 and peak on the night of April 22-23, which is when they are expected to produce 18 meteors an hour. They are expected to peak at 1:06 UT on April 23.
As is the case with them each year, viewers in the northern hemisphere are able to view it better compared to those in the southern part of the world.
If you trace the paths of these meteors backward, they’ll seem to radiate from the constellation of Lyra the Harp, near the bright star Vega, which rises in the northeast at 10 p.m.
These meteors are caused when Earth passes through the dust trail left by the comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). None of us will see this in our lifetime because it only orbits the sun every 415 years. The last time it got close to our star was in 1861, the next will be 2276.
Eta Aquarids | May 05-06, 2023
We’re out of luck to watch Eta Aquarids in 2023. The night will be a full moon (99.8%), which is a deal breaker. Additionally, the full moon will set at 5:39 am PST and the sun will rise at 5:46 am; we are disappointed too about missing these showers this year.
Southern Delta Aquarids | July 30, 2023
This meteor shower runs from late July to first half of August and will peak on the night of July 30. It is best seen a couple of hours before dawn, when the hourly rate is expected to reach 15-20 meteors.
The moon, unfortunately, will be 95% full and obscure the best of the shower. However, there is a new moon on August 16, so the nights before and after would be pretty dark and may offer a glimpse of the event.
Alpha Capricornids | July 30, 2023
Accompanying the Delta Aquarids meteor shower is another, subtler one that peaks at the same time straddling both northern and southern hemispheres.
While this meteor shower, even at its maximum, does not produce more than 5 meteors per hour, it is reputed for bright fireballs that can be easily seen. Similar to the Southern Delta Aquarids, Alpha Capricornids is enveloped in moonlight and can’t be seen this year.
Perseids | August 12-13, 2023
Finally, a major shower that will be in our favor!
The Perseids is one of the most popular showers each year, reputed for producing large, bright meteors at excellent rates of 50-75 per hour. The whole event lasts from mid-July to late August.
At peak viewing this year, expected on the night of 12 August, the Moon will only be 12% full and will set at 3 am UT, allowing for unobstructed views of the shower’s peak.
Draconids | October 08-10, 2023
The Draconids runs annually from October 6th to 10th, and this year it’ll peak on the night of the eighth, showering a dozen or so meteors per hour. Being four days before a new moon, we are expecting it to be a favorable time to watch the shower. Unlike other meteor showers, the Draconids are best watched in the early evenings rather than in the pre-dawn hours.
This year, the moon will set around 1 am UT on these nights, offering (hopefully) clear and dark skies.
Orionids | October 20-21, 2023
The Orionids are active from September 26 to November 22. This year, their peak is expected after midnight and before dawn on the night of October 22. They are usually best hunted during pre-dawn hours.
This year, the Moon will be 40% full but is not expected to obstruct viewing.
Taurids | November 04-05, 2023
The Southern Taurids meteor shower peaks on the night of Nov. 4-5, while the Northern Taurids shower peaks Nov. 11-12 in 2023. The moon reaches third quarter on Nov. 5 and will be close to 50% illuminated. There is a new moon on Nov. 13, so we can expect dark skies that night for Northern Taurids shower.
This is not an exciting shower, producing just a handful of trails every hour (around 5/hour).
The best time to see them is around midnight.
Leonids | November 17-18, 2023
The Leonids produces a steady show of shooting stars from 6 to 30 November, peaking as the 17th becomes the 18th of November. There will probably be 10-15 per hour meteors per hour.
The Moon then will be four days after new moon and will be only around 20% illuminated, making for favorable viewing conditions.
Geminids | December 13-14, 2023
The Geminids shower is expected to peak on the night on December 13, 2023 at 19:27 UT. The whole shower produces shooting stars from Nov. 19 all the way till Christmas eve this year.
Dec. 13 falls beautifully on a new moon night, when the moon will only be 0.3% illuminated!
This means we get to enjoy a spectacular shower. Look out for Gemini’s radiant rising around sunset — there will be up to two meteors every minute, and there could be several bright ones in there!
Ursids | December 21-22, 2023
The last meteor shower of this year, unfortunately, is not in our favor. While Ursids occur from Dec. 13 all the way till the 24th, their peak will happen just four days before a new moon on the 26th.
At this time, the moon will be 86% illuminated and is expected to hinder viewing.
What Causes Meteor Showers?
As comets orbit our solar system, they leave behind a trail of ice and dust particles.
When Earth’s circular orbit overlaps the comets’ highly elongated ones, our planet encounters upwards of half a billion of these comet particles.
Earth’s gravitational pull sucks them in towards itself, revving their speeds up to 160,000 miles an hour. As they encounter our atmosphere, friction heats them up to 2000° Fahrenheit.
As the comet particles slam into Earth’s upper atmosphere, their icy nuclei vaporize in a matter of seconds, liberating the dust within. This dust gives off a brief, often vibrant burst of light as it too is vaporized, which we see as the proverbial ‘shooting star’.
This feat, as seen from the ground, produces a dense and steady stream of incoming meteors, their numbers ranging from a couple dozen each hour to tens per second, depending on which comet’s trail we’re passing through at the time.
Since comets’ paths around the sun are relatively fixed, meteor showers are well documented and occur approximately at the same time each year.
Locating Meteor Showers
On any given night, there may be four or five visible shooting stars every hour. The easiest way to spot them is to notice their fast speeds. Stars twinkle, planets shine calmly, and meteors streak across the night sky in a whizz of light.
Learn how to photograph the night sky to capture meteor trails
While occasional shooting stars are visible almost every night to a patient observer, they arrive in bulk during a meteor shower.
The duration of these showers depends on the width of the dust trail shed by comets. The smaller the dust particle, the easier it is moved by the Sun’s wind (solar wind), causing a more extensive trail. In such cases, Earth takes quite a few days to pass through the trail.
To make the most of their visibility, you have to locate the point from which the shower seems to originate (the radiant) by tracing its path backward.
Though meteors appear to fill the sky, they come from the same direction in space and will be traveling away from their radiant. Each meteor shower is named after the constellation its radiant is located in.
For example, the Perseid meteor shower has its radiant in the constellation of Perseus.
Knowing the rising time of the constellations is probably the best way to prepare for your observations since it determines when the shower will be the maximum from your location. Use paid software like Sky Safari, or free versions such as Stellarium to help you out.
Tips for watching meteor showers
It is important to remember that moonlight seriously hinders meteor watching. However, most of the showers last many days, if not months, so time your observations when the moon is not so bright or when it is not high in the sky.
Recording the showers
While you can carry a pen and a clipboard to note down the number of meteors, you will have to take your eyes off the sky, leading to inaccurate observations.
Instead, you can speak into your audio recording device. Make sure to record at least for an hour, since that covers both high and low meteor activity.
The International Meteor Organization (IMO) also has a list of software tools that can aid in spotting constellations and predict meteor scatter. If you happen to observe a fireball, the IMO has an ever-expanding database where you can contribute your sightings.
The first item on your checklist is a dark sky. While moving away from cities is needed, the Dark Site Finder displays a bunch of places with the darkest skies. These are usually dark sky reserves—places with the least amount of light pollution, and your best bet to watch a great meteor shower.
You’ll get the best view of the night sky when you lie on your back (the horizon should be visible at the edge of your peripheral vision). Make sure to move away from the city lights and allow at least 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Discover what astronomy you can do in the city!
While you do not need any special or professional equipment, you can consider carrying along a star map to navigate the sky and spot constellations. We recommend a decent planisphere, like these.
Since meteor watching can consume many hours, consider spreading out a thick blanket or relaxing in comfortable chairs while you wait for the show. We’d also recommend a Thermos of hot coffee too, just to keep away the chills.
Oh, and don’t forget to add loads of excitement to your checklist. Happy meteor watching!