Astronomy Essentials

EarthSky’s 2021 meteor shower guide

Meteor shower guide top image: Long thin white streak of meteor trail in dawn light bisecting bright dot.
What are the odds?! This amazing image is from Emma Zulaiha Zulkifli in Sabah, on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. She caught a bright meteor streaking right in front of the bright planet Venus on December 15, 2018. She wrote: “Yes, the meteor actually did streak in front of Venus! Only a bit of tweaking on contrast and noise reduction done in Photoshop CC2018.” Fuji X-A1, 18-55mm f2.8 with Tripod, Exif : iso2000, 30″, f2.8. Way to go, Emma! Keep reading for your meteor shower guide for 2021.

January 3, 2021, before dawn, Quadrantids

In 2021, watch for the Quadrantids after midnight and before dawn on January 3. Some of the brighter Quadrantid meteors might be able to overcome the glare of the waning gibbous moon. The Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour in a moonless sky, but the narrow peak of this shower lasts only a few hours and doesn’t always come at an opportune time. The radiant point is in the part of the sky that used to be considered the constellation Quadrans Muralis, the Mural Quadrant. The radiant is near the famous Big Dipper asterism (see chart here). In January, it’s in the north-northeastern sky after midnight and highest up before dawn. Because the radiant is fairly far to the north on the sky’s dome, meteor numbers tend to be greater at northerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Read more: All you need to know about Quadrantid meteors

Starry sky with many thin meteor trails radiating out from one point.
Quadrantid radiant composite via Scott MacNeill of Frosty Drew Observatory in Charleston, Rhode Island.

April 22, 2021, before dawn, Lyrids

In 2021, we expect peak viewing in the dark hour before dawn April 22. The best time to watch may be the hour or two between moonset and dawn. The Lyrid meteor shower – April’s shooting stars – lasts from about April 16 to 25. About 10 to 15 meteors per hour can be expected around the shower’s peak, in a dark sky. The Lyrids are known for uncommon surges that can sometimes bring the rate up to 100 per hour. Those rare outbursts aren’t easy to predict, but they’re one of the reasons the tantalizing Lyrids are worth checking out. The radiant for this shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra (chart here). The radiant rises in the northeast at about 10 p.m. on April evenings.

Read more: All you need to know about Lyrid meteors

Dark blue sky with a few clouds and stars and vertical white streaks.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Photographer Thomas Hollowell in Colorado caught these Lyrid meteors on the morning of April 22, 2020, and said: “The 6 meteors in this frame were stacked in Photoshop on a set of 3 background frames.” Thanks, Thomas!

May 5, 2021, before dawn, Eta Aquariids

In 2021, the most Eta Aquariid meteors will likely rain down in the hour or two before dawn on May 5, though under the light of a rather wide waning crescent moon. The broad peak to this shower means that some meteors may fly for a few days before and after the predicted optimal date. The Eta Aquariids have a somewhat broad maximum. You can watch the shower the day before and after the predicted peak morning. The shower favors the Southern Hemisphere and is often that hemisphere’s best meteor shower of the year. The radiant is near the star Eta in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer (chart here). The radiant comes over the eastern horizon at about 4 a.m. local time; that is the time at all locations across the globe. For that reason, you’ll want to watch this shower in the hour or two before dawn, no matter where you are on Earth. In the southern half of the U.S., 10 to 20 meteors per hour might be visible in years when you have a dark sky. Farther south – at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere – you might see two to three times that number on a dark, moonless night. Meanwhile, at northerly latitudes – like those in the northern U.S. and Canada, or northern Europe – meteor numbers are lower for this shower.

Read more: All you need to know about Eta Aquariid meteors

Long thin meteor trail crossing the Milky Way above trees and small house.
Long meteor crossing the Milky Way caught during the peak of the May 2016 Eta Aquariid meteor shower, by Darla Young.

Late July 2021, before dawn, Delta Aquariids

At this shower’s peak on or near July 27-30, 2021, the rather faint Delta Aquariid meteors will fall most abundantly in the predawn hours, though in the glaring light of a waning gibbous moon. Never fear. You’ll still be seeing Delta Aquariids when the Perseids peak in August. Like the Eta Aquariids in May, the Delta Aquariid meteor shower in July favors the Southern Hemisphere and tropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s well viewed from latitudes like the southern U.S. These faint meteors appear to radiate from near the star Skat aka Delta in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. The maximum hourly rate can reach 15 to 20 meteors in a dark sky. The nominal peak is around July 27-30, but, unlike many meteor showers, the Delta Aquariids lack a very definite peak. Instead, these medium-speed meteors ramble along fairly steadily throughout late July and early August. You’ll see plenty of Delta Aquariids mixed in with Perseids, if you’re watching in early August, and from a southerly latitude. An hour or two before dawn is usually the best time to watch the Delta Aquariids.

Read more: All you need to know about Delta Aquariid meteors

Green fireball with glowing trail against the Milky Way.
Delta Aquariid in 2014, from David S. Brown in southwest Wyoming.

Late evening to dawn on August 11, 12 and 13, 2021, Perseids

2021 is a great year for the Perseids! The waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, providing dark skies. Start watching for these meteors in early August. Their numbers will gradually increase. Predicted peak in 2021: the night of August 11-12, but try the nights before and after, too, from late night until dawn. The Perseid meteor shower is perhaps the most beloved meteor shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a rich meteor shower, and it’s steady. These swift and bright meteors radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. As with all meteor shower radiant points, you don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower. Instead, the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. These meteors frequently leave persistent trains. Perseid meteors tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight. The shower typically produces the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn.

Read more: All you need to know about Perseid meteors

Long meteor trail over a lake with brightly lit yellow pier.
The 2017 Perseid meteor shower peaked in moonlight, but that didn’t stop Hrvoje Crnjak in Šibenik, Croatia, from catching this bright Perseid on the morning of August 12, 2017. Notice the variations in brightness and color throughout, and the little “pop” of brightness toward the bottom. A brightness “pop” like that comes from a clump of vaporizing debris. Thank you, Hrvoje!

October 8, 2021, nightfall and evening, Draconids

In 2021, watch the Draconid meteors at nightfall and early evening on October 8. You might catch some on the nights before and after, as well. Fortunately, the thin waxing crescent moon sets before nightfall. It won’t hinder this year’s Draconid shower. The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky. That’s why the Draconids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. The Draconid shower is a real oddity, in that the radiant point stands highest in the sky as darkness falls. That means that, unlike many meteor showers, more Draconids are likely to fly in the evening hours than in the morning hours after midnight. This shower is usually a sleeper, producing only a handful of languid meteors per hour in most years. But watch out if the Dragon awakes! In rare instances, fiery Draco has been known to spew forth many hundreds of meteors in a single hour.

Read more: All you need to know about Draconid meteors

Several meteor trails over a desert landscape with tall cacti.
Draconids near Tucson, Arizona, in 2013, by our friend Sean Parker Photography.

October 21, 2021, before dawn, Orionids

Unfortunately a full moon accompanies 2021’s Orionid shower. Try watching for these meteors in the wee hours before dawn on October 21. You won’t escape the moon, though. On a dark, moonless night, the Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. More meteors tend to fly after midnight, and the Orionids are typically at their best in the wee hours before dawn. These fast-moving meteors occasionally leave persistent trains. The Orionids sometimes produce bright fireballs, which might be able to overcome a moonlit glare. If you trace these meteors backward, they seem to radiate from the Club of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter.

Read more: Everything you need to know Orionid meteors

Beautiful green aurora along horizon reflected in shallow water, with a meteor trail above it.
Orionid meteor with aurora in 2013, by Tommy Eliassen Photography in Norway.

Late night November 4 until dawn November 5, 2021, the South Taurids

The meteoroid streams that feed the South (and North) Taurids are very spread out and diffuse. Thus the Taurids are extremely long-lasting (September 25 to November 25) but usually don’t offer more than about five meteors per hour. That is true even on their peak nights. The Taurids are, however, well known for having a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors. Plus, the two Taurid showers – South and North – augment each other. In 2021, the expected peak night of the South Taurid shower happens in close conjunction with the new moon. Peak viewing is just after midnight, with absolutely no moon to ruin the display. The South and North Taurid meteors continue to rain down throughout the following week, with virtually no interference from the waxing crescent moon!

Late night November 11 until dawn November 12, 2021, the North Taurids

Like the South Taurids, the North Taurids meteor shower is long-lasting (October 12 – December 2) but modest, and the peak number is forecast at about five meteors per hour. The North and South Taurids combine to provide a nice sprinkling of meteors throughout October and November. Typically, you see the maximum numbers at or around midnight, when Taurus the Bull is highest in the sky. Taurid meteors tend to be slow-moving, but sometimes very bright. In 2021, the first quarter moon sets at late night, providing dark skies from roughly midnight till dawn.

Big green Taurid fireball reflected on a lake under a starry sky.
In 2015, the Taurids put on a spectacular display of fireballs which lasted many days.Photographer Jeff Dai captured this one over Yamdrok Lake in Tibet.

November 17, 2021, before dawn, the Leonids

In 2021, the expected peak night of the Leonids is from late night November 16 until dawn November 17. The bright waxing gibbous moon will be out nearly all night long. It’ll set in the wee hours before sunrise. The famous Leonid meteor shower produced one of the greatest meteor storms in living memory. Rates were as high as thousands of meteors per minute during a 15-minute span on the morning of November 17, 1966. On that beautiful night in 1966, Leonid meteors did, briefly, fall like rain. They streamed from a single point in the sky – their radiant point – in the constellation Leo the Lion. Some who witnessed the 1966 meteor storm had a strong impression of Earth moving through space, fording the meteor stream. Leonid meteor storms sometimes recur in cycles of 33 to 34 years. But the Leonids around the turn of the century – while wonderful for many observers – did not match the shower of 1966. And, in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than roars. In a typical year, you’ll see a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour on a dark night. Like many meteor showers, the Leonids ordinarily pick up steam after midnight and display the greatest meteor numbers just before dawn, for all points on the globe.

Read more: All you need to know about Leonid meteors

Meteor streak over low-lying hills with sea in foreground.
James Younger sent in this photo during the 2015 peak of the Leonid meteor shower. It’s a meteor over the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest.

December 13-14, 2021, mid-evening until dawn, Geminids

In 2021, the peak night of the Geminid shower must endure many hours of moonlight from the waxing gibbous moon. But the moon will set in the wee hours before dawn, providing some dark hours. Plus, some of the brighter Geminids might overcome the moonlight. So you can try watching the usually reliable and prolific Geminid meteor shower from mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14. We can’t guarantee what you’ll see, but you might see something! The Geminid meteor shower radiates from near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins. This is one of the Northern Hemisphere’s best showers (and is still visible, at lower rates, in the Southern Hemisphere). The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids. They are often bold, white and bright. On a dark night, you can often catch 50 or more meteors per hour in a dark, moonless sky. The greatest number of meteors typically fall in the wee hours after midnight, centered around 2 a.m. local time (the time on your clock no matter where you are on Earth). That’s when the radiant point is highest in your local sky.

Read more: All you need to know about Geminid meteors

Very bright meteor trail in densely starry sky behind bare trees.
Cynthia Haithcock in Troy, North Carolina, caught this Geminid in 2015. Looks like a bright one!

December 22, 2021, before dawn, the Ursids

In 2021, a bright waning gibbous moon will hinder the Ursids. Die-hard meteor watchers in the Northern Hemisphere might watch anyway. This low-key meteor shower is active each year from about December 17 to 26. The Ursids usually peak around the December solstice, perhaps offering five to 10 meteors per hour during the predawn hours in a dark sky.

Read more: Ursid meteors peak around December solstice

Meteor shower guide: Find a dark sky

Here’s the first thing – the main thing – you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at watching meteors. That is, to watch meteors, you need a dark sky. It’s possible to catch a meteor or two or even more from the suburbs. But, to experience a true meteor shower – where you might see several meteors each minute – avoid city lights. EarthSky’s Best Places to Stargaze page shows dark locations worldwide. Once you choose your dark area, you can watch from many sorts of areas: a rural backyard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. State parks and national parks are good bets, but be sure they have a wide open viewing area, for example, a field. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in a forest on meteor night. An EarthSky friend, veteran meteor-watcher and astrophotographer Sergio Garcia Rill, also offers this specific advice:

… you might want to give it a try but don’t know where to go. Well, in planning my night photoshoots I use a variety of apps and web pages to know how dark the sky is in a certain location, the weather forecast, and how the night sky will look.

Suggested apps and websites

Best Places to Stargaze, from EarthSky

Find a Dark Sky Place, from the International Dark Sky Association

Heavens-Above: Satellite predictions customized to your location

Stellarium Online: Star maps customized to your locationorg

Dark Site Finder, from astrophotographer Kevin Palmer/

Blue Marble Navigator

What to bring

You don’t need special equipment to watch a meteor shower. But you do want to be comfortable. Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, and a thermos with a hot drink. Be sure to dress warmly enough, even in spring or summer, especially in the hours before dawn. Binoculars are fun to have. You won’t need them for watching the meteor shower, but, especially if you have a dark sky, you might not be able to resist pointing them at the starry sky.

Meteor showers are part of nature. They’re inherently unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour, if not a whole night, reclining comfortably while looking up at the sky. Also remember that meteor showers typically don’t just happen on one night. They span a range of dates. So the morning before or after a shower’s peak are often worthwhile times to watch.

Remember …

… Meteor showers are like fishing. You go, you enjoy nature … and sometimes you catch something.

Peak dates are derived from data published in the Observer’s Handbook by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Meteor trail from two very bright stars against a starry sky.
This Geminid meteor is seen coming straight from its radiant point, which is near the two brightest stars in Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Photo taken on the night of December 12-13, 2012, by EarthSky Facebook friend Mike O’Neal in Oklahoma. He said the 2012 Geminid meteor shower was one of the best meteor shows he’s ever seen.

Bottom line: Look here for information about all the major meteor showers between now and the year’s end. There are some good ones!

Find a dark place to observe meteor showers from worldwide.

EarthSky’s top 10 tips for meteor-watchers

Enjoy knowing where to look in the night sky? Please donate to help EarthSky keep going.

Posted 
July 30, 2021
 in 
Astronomy Essentials

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