For an early astronomical treat to usher in the New Year, seek out the natural pyrotechnics of the rich Quadrantid meteor shower. Peak shooting star activity occurs within a four-hour window centred on a prediction of 8am GMT on 4 January 2020 – a time that favours UK skywatchers at astronomical dawn, or North American observers around local midnight.
The December Geminid meteor shower is generally regarded as the richest and most reliable of the major annual shooting star displays. This year the predicted peak occurs between 2h and 23h UT (2am to 11pm GMT) on Saturday the 14th, but its bright and slow-moving shooting stars will have to contend with the glare of a nearby Moon just two days after full.
It’s the time of year when Northern Hemisphere skywatchers turn their attention to the Perseids, the favourite meteor shower of many an observer. The peak of the Perseids is predicted for moonset on 13 August 2019, bringing dark skies to watch these bright, fast shooting stars — the more explosive examples leaving persistent trails in the sky.
Hot on the heels of terrestrial fireworks ushering in the New Year, it’s time for some celestial pyrotechnics from the Quadrantid meteor shower – the year’s first major display of shooting stars – on 4 January. With an old waning crescent Moon not rising until nautical dawn in the UK, dark skies could see up to 80 meteors per hour around 2am GMT.
If skies are clear between moonset and the first glimmer of dawn this weekend, you may get to see some celestial fireworks from the Lyrid meteor shower. While it may not be the richest of the annual shooting star displays, the Lyrids can deliver a few fireballs and a portion of these medium-speed meteors can leave glowing trains.
As shooting-star devotees prepare for the naked-eye spectacle of the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December, owners of small telescopes can also witness the close passage of the meteors’ parent body — a curious “rock comet” known as 3200 Phaethon, galloping through the constellations of Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Pisces and Pegasus at a rate of up to 15 degrees/day.
If skies are clear between midnight and the first glimmer of dawn this weekend, you may get to see up to 20 celestial fireworks per hour from the Orionid meteor shower. While far from the richest of the annual shooting star displays, the Orionids are particularly swift and have their genesis in particles strewn along the orbit of Comet Halley.