Dark, clear skies, moonless nights are the perfect nights to sit up and wait up for meteor showers. To experience a true meteor shower, you need to be at the right place at the right time on the right date. Right place- any open space that will give you a wide view of the sky, and away from city lights. Right time- peak hours are very important and also knowing where to look – the radiant point of the meteors- will prove to be highly convenient. Right date- meteor showers occur over a range of dates throughout the year, knowing the dates is the key. Equip yourself with the best things to make you comfortable- a mug of hot coffee to keep you awake, a mat to lie on, a pillow for your head- and you are ready to attend the most spectacular event up the sky!
Here is a list of major meteor showers of the year, their peak time and dates and where to look-
January Quadrantids are the first meteor shower of the year. Quadrantids have high rates with a hundred and more meteors per hour but the peak time last for only few hours. They radiates from an area inside the constellation Bootes, not far from the Big Dipper. The peak time for Quadrantids is January 3.
Lyrids are April meteor showers that peak on 22 April. They are bright and radiates from the constellation Lyra. 10- 20 meteors can be seen per hour but uncommon surges might result in hundreds of meteors per hour. Look out for Lyrids this April during pre-dawn hours.
The Eta Aquarids-
Eta Aquarids are meteor showers that peak from May 5-7. The radiant point of this shower is near the star Eta in the constellation Aquarius. The Eta Aquarids is mostly a predawn shower and the hour or two before dawn tends to offer the most number of meteors.
The Delta Aquarids-
The Delta Aquarids are meteor showers that can be seen throughout late July and early August. Unlike many meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids lack a definite peak although the nominal peak is around July 29-30. The meteors appear to radiate from near the star Delta in the constellation Aquarius. They are medium-speed meteors and a maximum of 15-20 meteors can be seen at peak time. Delta Aquarids, like the Eta aquarids, can be seen best during a couple of hours before dawn.
Perseids are August meteor showers associated with the comet Swift- Tuttle. They are perhaps the most popular and one of the most spectacular annual meteor shower. Perseids are fast and bright and radiate from the constellation Perseus. Their peak time is Aug 10-13 with impressive rates of 50-100 meteors per hour. The meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky and best time to watch is in the wee hours before dawn.
Draconids are meteor showers of the month of October that radiates from the northern constellation Draco. Unlike other meteor showers, Draconids are best seen in the evening rather than pre dawn hours. The meteor rates vary from a normal rate of just a handful of meteors per hour to hundreds of meteors per hour in case of an outburst. In 1933 and 1946, Draconids created one of the most spectacular meteor storms of the 20th century with thousands of meteors visible per hour. This year, Draconids are expected to peak on October 7 evening and nightfall.
The Orionids –
Orionids are late October meteors showers that peak in the pre-dawn hours of October 21. A maximum of about 10 to 20 meteors per hour can be seen at peak time. Orionids are fast-moving meteors that occasionally leave persistent trails and sometimes produce bright fireballs. The radiant point of Orionids is north of the star Betelgeuse- of the constellation Orion.
The South Taurids and the North Taurids-
Both the South Taurids and North Taurids are long-lasting showers but usually don’t offer more than about 7 meteors per hour even at their peak time. South Taurids’ peak time is late night November 4 to dawn November 5 while North Taurids peak from late night November 11 to dawn November 12. Taurids are very bright and are well known for having a high percentage of fireballs. The North and South Taurids combined together can provide a nice sprinkling of meteors throughout October and November.
Leonids are meteor shower that peaks in mid November every year. They are caused by the comet Tempel-Tuttle and the location of their radiant is in the constellation Leo. Leonids are famous and are considered one of the most spectacular meteor showers. Usually Leonids have a rate of about 10-15 meteors per hour. But meteor storm recurs every 33 years, like in the November of 1966, the most incredible leonid meteor storm brought about thousands of meteors per minute! This year the peak time is expected on November 17 and 18 after midnight.
Geminids are one of the best meteor showers that can be seen in the month of December. They are bright and can be seen even in the evening as well as midnight and pre dawn hours. They radiate from the constellation Gemini and are visible either in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere. The rate is high with 50-160 meteors per hour at peak time. This year, watch Geminids at their peak time in the evenings and morning hours of Dec 13 and 14.