EarthSky’s 2021 meteor shower guide
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
… 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.
Bottom line: Look here for information about all the major meteor showers between now and the year’s end. There are some good ones!