Put August 11 on your calendar to watch the night sky. The best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be entertaining night sky watchers with at least 40 fireballs an hour when they peak next week. However, they have been known to rack up as many as 100 meteors per hour.
As debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs annually when earth’s orbit takes it near the comet’s path from the end of July to mid-August. The meteors are already zooming across the sky but in 2021 the peak is Aug. 11-13.
If you like company or have trouble seeing them, tune into NASA which has invited everyone to watch with them. Watch time is Aug. 11-12 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. CDT on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
If weather is a problem, there is likely to be a second chance Aug. 12-13. The livestream is hosted by the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
A crescent moon will be setting early so moonlight shouldn’t be a factor. Watch between midnight and dawn away from city lights. Some folks stretch out on blankets but if the ground is dewy damp pull out a lawn chair.
Don’t worry if you don’t see any meteors right away. It takes a few minutes to adapt to the night sky. The meteor shower radiant appears to be above Perseus.
The Eta Aquarids, the first half of Halley’s Comet’s two rounds of meteor showers, peak May 4-6, 2021. The two meteor showers are debris from Comet Halley as Earth passes through the comet’s path around the Sun.
Seen in both hemispheres, the Southern Hemisphere arguably offers a better view now when its radiant, the Aquarius constellation, is overhead and Northern is better for its second round, the Orionids, in October. But both meteor showers are popular with sky watchers.
After acclimating your sight to the night, look in the southern sky for Eta Aquarii, the constellation’s brightest star. Depending on the weather, you may be treated to more than 30 meteorites per hour.
The moon, now in its waning crescent phase should not be a factor, particularly if watching for the meteorites early on May 6 before dawn.
Assuming the weather cooperates, early risers should have no trouble spotting a fireball zooming across the sky shortly before dawn in the next few days. The Lyrids meteor shower is happening now.
They seem to be shooting out (radiant) from the Lyric constellation just northwest of its bright Vega star. They are debris from the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), first noted more than 2,500 years ago.
The best days to look for them are April 21-22 when the Lyrids are expected to peak at about 18 meteors an hour. Pre dawn is the best time to watch because the moon is waxing gibbous so its illumination won’t be a factor after it sets.
For the time to watch in your zone visit Time and Date. For more information on where to look visit Space which has a map to help find the radiant. For more basic meteor and Lyrid information visit NASA Lyrids.
Look up to take your mind off 2020 politics and pandemic that still plague us on earth. The sky is endlessly interesting with bright planets such as Venus in the early morning eastern sky and Saturn and Jupiter still a cozy couple in the early twilit southwestern sky.
Now, add to the mix the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that has been known to send out from 50 to 100 fireballs an hour. Associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids were named for the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.
The good news in 2021 is that the Quadrantids peak early morning before sunrise Jan. 3. Because sunrise at this time of year in the northern hemisphere is shortly after 7 a.m., the Quadrantids peak time of around 6 a.m. means you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to catch them.
Best plan is to let your eyes acclimate to the darkish sky and look northeast where their radiant (place of origin) will be ascending.
The bad news in 2021 is that the full moon ending 2020 on Dec. 29 (into early morning Dec. 30) is only in its waning gibbous phase. That means the bright, nearly full orb of 81 % illumination, still high in the sky, can outshine the meteor lights.
If you miss the Quadrantids, mark the calendar for the Lyrids meteor shower that peaks April 21-22.
BTW – next three full moons are the Wolf Moon/Old Moon, Moon After Yule on Jan. 28; the Snow Moon/Hunger Moon on Feb. 27 and the Crow Moon/ Lenten Moon/Worm Moon on March 28.
Prime time to see the two planets at their closest is 4:15 p.m. CST Monday, low in the southwest. But you can see them fairly close to each other through December.
What regular sky watchers know is that the two planets do pass near each other every 20 years as they last did in 2000. The difference this year is that their orbits bring them 10 times closer than in 2000.
Indeed, they will be closer than they have been seen at night than in 800 years and closer during the day in 400 years. Seen together as a “great conjunction,” they may resemble one large or elongated planet or star.
As for the meteors, the Ursids which shoot across the sky seemingly radiating from Ursa Minor about 10 meteors per hour, aren’t as plentiful as the Geminids. However, both can be seen Dec. 20-22. The Ursid comet parent is 8P/Tuttle.
The Harvest Moon that appeared Oct. 1-2 pulled out cell phones to snap its full golden beauty. But there’s more to come in October for the casual sky watcher.
The Draconids, a meteor shower that may be spotted zooming overhead in the Northern Hemisphere Oct. 6-10, peaks Oct. 7-8.
The good news is watchers don’t have to wait until midnight and later because this meteor shower typically is seen in early evening. Plus, the moonlight won’t be a factor because the earth’s “nightlight” is in its gibbous waning phase and won’t be rising until later in the evening.
The sort of bad news is that the Draconids, at about five meteors per hour, are seldom prolific. Watchers may see just a few or get lucky as people in Europe did in 2018 and catch this meteor shower in one of its boom years.
The Draconids are called that because they seem to emanate from Draco the Dragon constellation above the Little Dipper. Look for them in the northwestern sky. The parent comet is 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.
But as, tv ads say, wait. A slightly more prolific meteor shower is coming soon and can be seen in both hemispheres.
The Orionids that tend to have 10 to 20 meteors per hour, will be peaking Oct. 20-22 just before dawn after a crescent moon sets. So the sky should be dark enough to see the meteors. However, the Orionids also can be blazingly bright so even in an unfavorable moonlit sky they can be seen.
Look to the club of the Orion the Hunter constellation that gives these meteors their name. The parent comet is IP/Halley making the Orionids the comet’s second meteor shower in a year. The first was the Eta Aquarids that came in May.
Check the weather predictions in your area for Aug. 11-13. That is when the Perseids are supposed to be peaking with bright meteors shooting across the sky at 50 to 100 an hour.
Best time say the experts, is in the northern hemisphere right before dawn, so also check the sunrise times for your area.
Because these meteors are bright, plentiful and have long tails, the largish waning crescent moon might not be much of a hindrance the night of Aug. 11. By Aug 13 the moon will be thinner though there may be fewer meteors.to spot.
So where do they come from?
The Perseids are debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet. They are called Perseids because they look like they emanate (their radiant) from the Perseus constellation as the Earth moves through their trail each summer.
The comet’s name comes from Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle who discovered it in 1862.
Sky watchers have two meteor showers to spot the rest of July and much of August: the Delta Aquariids and the Perseids.
Although the Aquariids, a sparse shower of about 20 meteors per hour, are best seen in the Southern Hemisphere they can be spotted as far north as the mid-northern latitudes. Just watch for them after the moon sets around midnight this weekend until just before dawn, July 27-28. However, the moon, which is in its first quarter isn’t much of a factor.
The comet of origin is suspected to be 96P Machholz. Named for where they seem to come from, the radiant is the Aquarius Constellation in the southern sky.
Because the Aquariids continue through late August, you may see them when you watch for the Perseids that peak Aug. 11-13.
You will know which is which because the Perseids, a strong shower of up to 150 meteors per hour during its peak, come from the northern part of the sky where you find the Perseus Constellation. The comet of origin is 109P Swift-Tuttle.
If watching for the Aquariids this weekend, you may also see the Perseids because they are very bright and already started about July 17. However, they don’t peak until about the second week of August when the moon will also be bright.