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.
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 close to 12h UT on 14 December, though high rates of activity should be encountered between 8pm GMT on Thursday, 13 December and 5pm GMT the following evening.
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.
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.
It’s time to direct your attention skyward for some celestial pyrotechnics from the first major annual meteor shower — the Quadrantids. The short-lived peak of this active shower is predicted to occur at 2pm GMT on 3 January, favouring observers in the west of North America, but most Northern Hemisphere observers with clear skies will still see some shooting stars.
With a waxing gibbous Moon setting at 1am BST for the UK on the night of 12-13 August, observers will have dark skies for what could be a Perseid meteor shower to remember. Some theorists believe that Jupiter’s gravitational influence has deflected more particles from parent comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle into Earth’s path for a spectacular show.
The highlight of October for meteor observers is the Orionid meteor shower, which occurs when the Earth encounters the debris stream of Halley’s Comet. With a broad maximum 21-23 October, peak rates are typically about a quarter of those seen for the Perseids of August. A good percentage of Orionids are bright and leave persistent trains.
From the evening of Wednesday, 12 August into the early hours of the following morning, it is the maximum of the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year, a new Moon makes prospects for watching this natural firework display particularly good. So, find somewhere away from the streetlights, settle into a garden lounger facing northeast, and enjoy the show!