Astronomy Essentials

Spring meteor showers are here: Top 10 tips for watching

Coming up! The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the morning of April 22. Details here.

When is the next meteor shower? Click here for EarthSky’s meteor shower guide

It’s meteor time! We’re out of the January to April meteor shower “drought.” By that, we mean that – between early January and late April every year – there are no major meteor showers. But now April’s Lyrids are coming up! They will peak on the morning of April 22, 2024.

How can you optimize your chances of seeing a great meteor display? Follow the tips below.

By the way, another shower follows closely behind the Lyrids. It’s the Eta Aquariid shower in early May. And then the summer meteors begin! Check EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for upcoming events.

Starry sky with a white, long streak crossing it. It is reflected in the water in a green color.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Jason Dain in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, captured this Geminid meteor and its reflection in the water. He wrote: “I was out watching for the aurora. I had a 2nd camera running some star trails, and managed to capture this fireball streaking across the sky.” We are so grateful for those 2 cameras! Thank you, Jason.

1. Know the peak time

Meteor showers generally happen over many days as Earth encounters a wide stream of icy particles in space. These particles are debris left behind by a comet. The peak is a point in time when Earth is expected to encounter the greatest number of comet particles. To find the peak dates of meteor showers, try EarthSky’s meteor guide.

And here’s the catch … the peak of the shower comes at the same time for all of us on Earth. Meanwhile, our clocks are saying different times. You’ll often need to adjust from UTC to your local time.

The predictions are not always right on the money, by the way. And remember … it’s possible to see nice meteor displays in the hours – even days – before or after the predicted peak.

Just remember, meteor showers are part of nature. They often defy prediction.

2. Location, location, location

We can’t say this strongly enough. You need a dark place to observe in the country. Visit EarthSky’s Best Places to Stargaze.

And … you need a wide-open view of the sky. A farmer’s field? A stretch of country road? A campsite with a clear view in one or more directions? An open sky will increase your chances of seeing some meteors.

3. Oh no! The moon is out

In meteor showers, a bright moon is not your friend. Nothing dampens the display of a meteor shower more effectively than a bright moon.

If the moon is out, look at areas of the sky away from the moon. Anything in the moon’s vicinity – including meteors – will likely be washed out by its bright light. Another tip for watching in moonlight: place some object between yourself and the moon. Observing from the shadow of a barn, or vehicle, even a tree, can help you see more meteors.

4. Know the expected rate

Here we touch on a topic that sometimes leads to some disappointment, especially among novice meteor-watchers: the rate.

Tables of meteor showers almost always list what is known as the zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) for each shower.

The ZHR is the number of meteors you’ll see if you’re watching in a very dark sky, with the radiant overhead, when the shower is at its peak. In other words, the ZHR represents the number of meteors you might see per hour given the very best observing conditions during the shower’s maximum.

If the peak occurs when it’s still daylight at your location, if most of the meteors are predominantly faint, if a bright moon is out, or if you’re located in a light-polluted area, the total number of meteors you see will be considerably reduced.

5. Don’t worry too much about radiant points

You don’t need to stare all night in a single direction – or even locate the radiant point – to have fun watching the shower. The meteors will appear all over the sky.

But … although you can see meteors shoot up from the horizon before a shower’s radiant rises, you’ll see more meteors after it rises. And you’ll see the most when the radiant is highest in the sky. So find out the radiant point’s rising time. It can help you pinpoint the best time of night to watch the shower.

And … the radiant point is interesting. If you track meteors backward on the sky’s dome, you’ll find them streaming from their radiant point, a single point within a given constellation. Hence the meteor shower’s name.

6. Watch for an hour or more

Meteor showers will be better if you let your eyes adapt to the dark. That can take as long as 20 minutes. Plus, the meteors tend to come in spurts, followed by lulls. Be patient! You’ll see some.

7. Notice the meteors’ speeds and colors

The Leonid meteors seem to zip across the sky, while the Taurids are slow enough everyone can see them when someone yells “Meteor!” Also, some meteor showers, such as the Perseids, can be colorful. Another beloved shower, the Geminids, tend to be bright and white.

8. Watch for meteor trains

A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are from luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris.

9. Bring a blanket, a buddy, a hot drink and a lawn chair

A reclining lawn chair helps you lie back in comfort for an hour or more of meteor-watching.

If several of you are watching, take different parts of the sky. If you see one, shout “Meteor!” Dress warmly; the nights can be cool or cold, even during the spring and summer months. You’ll probably appreciate that blanket and warm drink in the wee hours of the morning. Also, leave your laptops and tablets home; even using the nighttime dark mode will ruin your night vision. And this will be tough on some people: leave your cell phone in your pocket or the car. It can also ruin your night vision.

10. Enjoy nature

Relax and enjoy the night sky. Not every meteor shower is a winner. Sometimes, you may come away from a shower seeing only one meteor. But if that one meteor is bright, and takes a slow path across a starry night sky … it’ll be worth it.

To be successful at observing any meteor shower, you need to get into a kind of zen state, waiting and expecting the meteors to come to you, if you place yourself in a good position (country location, wide open sky) to see them.

Or forget the zen state, and let yourself be guided by this old meteor watcher’s motto:

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any.

Photos of meteors from EarthSky’s community

Water with light on the incoming waves plus the Milky Way and other lights behind.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Amr Abdulwahab in Fayoum Oasis, Egypt, captured this image on August 13, 2023. Amr wrote: “On August 13th, I was shooting a time-lapse of the Perseids meteor shower from the shore of Lake Rayan in Fayoum Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt, when I saw lights twinkling on the shore of the lake. At that time, I did not know what these lights were, but when I asked one of the fishermen in the lake, he told me that they were jellyfish. And as soon as I returned to the city and shared the pictures, my colleagues told me that it was the phenomenon of bioluminescence of a type of bacteria.” Thank you, Amr!
Hooded person going into igloo-like building with Milky Way in background.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Makrem Larnaout in Tunisia captured this image on August 12, 2023. Makrem wrote: “Seizing an incredible opportunity to breathe life into an iconic Star Wars moment, captured through my lens. Luke, poised to cross the threshold of his home, with the breathtaking Milky Way rising majestically in the backdrop. A dazzling Perseid meteor streaks through the sky, guided by a cosmic destiny. This captured instant unveils the magic of Tunisia, the backdrop that served the Star Wars universe. The Lars homestead, rooted in Tatooine’s sands, stood as the Lars family’s haven for 3 generations. A tribute to this cinematic legacy that continues to inspire us. The adventure persists between fiction and reality.” Thank you, Makrem!
Black sky with a few scattered stars and bright streak crossing it.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Valerie Liard in Epernay, France, wrote: “Hi EarthSky, on the occasion of the night of the stars 2023 I was able to photograph this magnificent Perseid fireball above the city of Epernay … It’s my first … Celebrating! :-)” Thank you and congratulations, dear Valerie!

Post your own photos at EarthSky Community Photos

Bottom line: Meteor showers are unpredictable but always a fun and relaxing time. Maximize your viewing with these tips.

Coming up! The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the morning of April 22. Details here.

When is the next meteor shower? Click here for EarthSky’s meteor shower guide

April 18, 2024
Astronomy Essentials

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