Meteor Day and Annual Meteor Shower Schedule
Start the Summer Meteor Season on June 30th with National Meteor Day!
National Meteor Day is the kickoff day to the annual summer season of meteor showers. Seeing a meteor isn't guaranteed, as they are only just beginning to build up to shower stage at this point.
Which of course makes seeing one even more exciting!
And if you don't catch a shooting star on June 30th, you can try again the next night...and the next. During the weeks following National Meteor Day, things in the sky will really start cooking!
Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons by Mbiz1
Are Meteors Really Shooting Stars?
Although that is exactly what they look like from here on earth, no. Meteors are actually nothing more than cosmic space dust. Most are about the size of a regular pebble and burn up in the earth's atmosphere long before reaching the surface. The much larger ones that actually make it through are called meteorites.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons by User Lars Lindberg Christensen
When is the Next Meteor Shower?
Well, to begin with, it depends on when exactly you are asking that question. Meteor showers occur all throughout the year, so you can catch a shooting star in just about any month or season. The good news is that we know when the night sky will be the most active and can therefore plan ahead.
How do we know? It's pretty simple really. Every year while taking her annual orbit around the sun, the Earth passes through certain areas of the sky around the same time each year. So we also pass through those cosmic dust and debris fields on a regular basis. And that's what meteor showers are made of.
For now, we'll go in calendar order and list the most popular (and active showers). We'll list some tips on the best way to view a shower a little later on.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons by Azzi Ergon
- The Quandrantids: This is the very first shower of the year, peaking in 2012 in early hours of January 4th. While this shower is very active, and can produce more than 100 meteors in a single hour's time, it is also hard to catch. That's because the window for this shower is very small--lasting only a matter of hours rather than days. if you want to catch this shower, be sure to stay alert to the news...
- The Lyrids: The Lyrids' show takes place around the middle of April. In 2012 it peaked around April 21st. You can expect to catch around around 10 to 20 shooting stars an hour, though at times there may be periods of much greater activity.
- The Eta Aquarids: This meteor shower peaks in the early days of May. In 2012 that meant a full moon--not the best viewing time for meteors. However with upwards of 50 or more an hour, even with brightest moon, some are bound to be bright enough to be seen.
- The Perseids: This is actually my favorite. This active shower (around 50 an hour) comes in mid-August (12th to the 13th), which in my neck of the woods is perfect camping weather. In 2012 this should be a great shower to catch, as there will be a fading crescent moon.
- The Orionids: This mid October shower is a bit slower than some of the others, with the peak viewing times only hosting meteors at a rate of around a dozen or so an hour. However, for 2012, another crescent moon should prove easy showing. Peak activity should be around October 20th and 21st.
- The Leonids: The middle of November brings the most famous of all recurring meteor showers, the Leonids. In the past, this shower has actually earned the rank of meteor storm a time or two. Usually, though, this is a slower shower as well--10 to 15 an hour. 2012 peak should occur late November 16th.
- The Geminids: The last show of the year. This shower happens in the middle of December. But trust me, it's worth putting on a coat or even wrapping up a blanket to catch this one. Especially in 2012 when the shower will happen during a new moon--giving us a perfect dark sky...all the better to catch the last shooting stars of the year.
Bring the Night Sky Indoors - The Moon, Stars, and More
This is a great way to get kids interested in astronomy, but I have to admit...I really like it too. It is wonderfully relaxing and calming to lie in bed and gaze up at glowing stars... or even the moon. Whatever your favorite night-time sky viewing object is, we have you covered here.
The moon is my all time favorite! It's just so big and beautiful. This wonderful product can be mounted high on a wall, or the ceiling. Best of all, it comes with a remote control that allows the viewer to change the moon's phases--12 to choose from! The control is easy, even for kids...
Have your own meteor shower indoors!
This will really bring the night sky indoors! Help your family learn the constellations from the comfort of their own bedrooms.
If you aren't worried about accuracy, then this product will work well for you. Simply stick the stars onto the ceiling. No batteries or electricity required!
NASA Video on the Perseid Meteor Shower
NOTE: While this video mentions a full moon for the Perseid Meteor Shower, that information is not true for the 2012 viewing season. The moon on the peak August evenings this year will be a fading crescent--perfect for catching sight of a lot of meteors!
How to Catch a Shooting Star
Or at the Least, to See One...
Probably the best thing of all about meteor showers is that you don't need any fancy equipment to view them! In fact, with meteors, the use of a telescope or even astronomy binoculars can be a hindrance rather than a help. The only thing you need is an open pair of eyes.
Of course, there are some tips that will make your viewing much easier. First of all you will need a clear view of the night sky. If you are camping under trees, they could get in the way of your view. So choose an open place for your viewing site.
Next, the darker the area the better you will be able to see. So try to get away from the lights of the city and out into the country if possible. If not, don't despair...there should be plenty of bright meteors that you can catch even in the city (as long as you can see stars in the sky, that is). But the general of thumb is darker is better.
Lastly, think about your comfort and the weather. If it's cold, be sure to take blankets or a cold-weather sleeping bag. If it is hot, be sure to dress appropriately as well. And a lounge chair or just a blanket on the ground is a great way to view the night sky without getting a dreaded crook in the neck from looking up!
Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons by C m Handler
Great Astronomy Links to Check Out
- NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day
Every day NASA posts a new astronomy picture. Be sure to check back often for these awesome images!
- Kid's Astronomy
A great learning resource designed just for kids. Includes games, activities, a free sky tool and much more.
- Top Meteor Showers to Watch for in 2012
A little more in-depth article about the 2012 Meteor shower schedule.
- Sky and Telescope's Interactive Sky Chart
Yes, you have to register to use the tool, but it is free...and the tool is awesome!
Beginning Astronomy Books on Amazon
If you are new to astronomy, these books can be a great help.
Meteor Showers are named for the Constellation that they appear to come from. This guide can help you to focus your viewing on the parts of the sky that will be most active.
This book was my beginning guide to astronomy. Jam packed with information for the amateur astronomer.
Another great book for the beginner. Learn just what you can see from your own backyard...and how best to see it!
All about meteors and meteorites...
The name says it all...