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Meteor shower nights are more than just nights to stay up late and check out the abundance of shooting stars in the sky, they are great opportunities for viewing parties, and good excuses to bring out your telescope and observe the heavens.

What is a Meteor Shower and What Causes Them?

Meteor Showers are caused by streams of debris entering Earth’s atmosphere. These debris are often left behind nearby orbiting comets and asteroids. Nearly all of the meteors are smaller than grains of sand, thus they disintegrate and never reach the ground.

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While you can see a meteor, also known as a shooting star, in the sky on any given night, meteor showers are different in that the meteors appear to radiate from a point in the sky, usually by a familiar constellation that gives the shower its name. Thus a shower radiating from Perseus gets the name “Perseids.”

Most meteor showers are gradual events, and they usually have peak days that are book-ended by increases and declines in activity. Most meteor showers on average can give you 15-30 meteors per hour during peak times, so they essentially increase your chances of spotting a shooting star.  Sometimes you’ll see them in short bursts, and when you see a really bright meteor that flashes in the sky and leaves behind a glowing trail, that sight is worth the wait!

When Is the Next {Amazing} Meteor Shower?

Believe it or not, meteor showers happen more often than you think because Earth is constantly entering and leaving debris trails from comets and asteroids! But of course, you want to know when the better showers are, right?

Here is a quick table of the most well known and reliable showers visible in North America.

Meteor shower Table

Some of you may be thinking, “I should just check out the Perseids and Geminids,” right? Sure, they’re great showers when there is no moon! If there is a prominent moon during peak hours, most meteors will get washed out! If you also happen to live in the city, the light pollution will also wash out the fainter meteors! Besides the two previously mentioned showers, next best rich shower is the Quadrantids, but the main issue with that shower is the peak time is very narrow, as in only a few hours, and if you are not in the right place at the right time, you won’t get a rich shower.

So much for that 120-150 per hour, right?

What About Meteor Storms?

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There’s two types – meteor outbursts and meteor storms.

During outbursts, you can expect a given shower to be much richer than usual, sometimes outshining your more reliable showers. That could mean double or triple the amount of meteors that you see!

Meteor storms on the other hand, are reached when the meteor rate goes over 1,000 per hour. But they are much more rare, and not easily predictable. The shower most associated with storms is the Leonids, as the famous 1833 shower saw over 100,000 meteors per hour! They have usually occurred on average every 33 years, with the last few storms occurring in 1999, 2001, and 2002. Those storms saw 2-3,000 meteors per hour, which is still an amazing sight to see! The other shower that has potential for meteor storms is the Draconids.

But when will we get another historic storm like 1833? Even scientists can’t predict it.

Always keep an eye out when there are outbursts or storms predicted for any given shower, you won’t want to miss them!

What Should I Do to See One?

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  1. Pick any meteor shower that has clear weather and doesn’t have a moon interfering with it.  Definitely check your weather forecasts, and check to see if the moon will be prominent during optimal hours. If the moon is supposed to set before or during those hours then you’ll still be fine.
  2. Pick a spot where you have a view of the whole sky. Most people think that you need to just look towards the radiant when in actuality the meteors will be all over the sky. It’s actually best to look up towards the zenith, where it’s much easier to scan and spot meteors out of the corner of your eye.
  3. Go to a dark location away from the city lights. If you want to actually see a decent meteor shower, you not only need no moon but you need no light pollution. For those who live near cities, that means you need to drive out to those dark locations.
  4. Get comfortable and dress accordingly! Since you will be outside for hours, dress according to the weather. While the summer meteor showers can have nice comfortable temperatures at night, the winter showers can get really cold! Regardless, a blanket and pillows are necessary to look up towards the heavens in anticipation of the show.
  5. Be Patient! It takes up to 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark sky! 
So… When Is the Shower Going to Start?

Understand that meteor showers are all night events.

Usually, the best times to watch a meteor shower are between midnight and sunrise, as your location on Earth is now facing towards the debris trail and the radiant has risen.

Early in the night, sometimes you can spot what are called “earth-grazers,” bright fireballs that move slow across the sky as they enter and exit earth’s atmosphere. They typically happen before the radiant has risen and are rare, but are great opening acts if spotted.

Expect the activity to pick up between 2 am – 4 am.

But That’s Too Early/ Too Far! Can’t I Just Catch One From the City?

Yeah yeah yeah… I get that complaint all the time. Yes, you may be able to spot one or two of the brighter meteors from your light polluted city sky. But what typically happens is you will step outside, wait 10-15 minutes, get impatient, and then go back inside because you didn’t see any. Meanwhile, those who actually made the effort to see the shower will report over hundreds that they saw, and make you feel like you missed out!

But It’s on a School Night! Can’t We Just Watch it Over the Weekend?

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I understand, but again, the best celestial events often occur on inconvenient days during inconvenient hours (take the 2017 Solar Eclipse for example). You may sometimes get lucky and have the peak nights of a shower occur on a Friday and Saturday night with no moon interference, but not very often! What if the peak night is on a Wednesday, but you’d rather catch the declining show over the weekend? You definitely won’t see a great show, that’s for sure!

Sorry, you cannot reschedule the sky!

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