Major Meteor Showers in 2019
Here are the 8 most dependable and prolific meteor showers for Northern Hemisphere observers, and tips on when to watch and what you might see. The biggest problems for visual meteor observers are the weather, natural light pollution from the Moon, and artificial light pollution. The Moon is predictable, and I have listed the lunar phase and amount of interference with each shower below.
2018 was an excellent year for meteor observers (if you got lucky with local weather conditions). Both the Perseids and Geminids peaked under mostly moonless skies, and a strong outburst of the usually-absent Draconids was observed by many in Europe and continued at lower rates across North America. In 2019, the Quadrantids peak without much moonlight interference, but the Perseids and especially the Geminids will be severely diminished in competition with the bright moon. The Lyrids and Leonids, already showers that produce relatively low rates, will not be worth watching this year due to moonlight interference. The Orionid maximum will be compromised by moonlight, but the situation improves over the next several mornings, so hardcore meteor observers may still see some interesting activity from the Orionids post-maximum.
Basic Meteor Observing Information
Several factors determine how many meteors you will see from a shower.
* One of the most important is the elevation of the shower's radiant when you're watching. For most showers, the radiant is highest in the morning hours, and that's when you can expect the best rates. If the radiant is near or below the horizon, don't expect to see any shower meteors even if the sky is dark. For each shower, I list a "WHEN TO WATCH" window when the radiant is at a useful elevation. The local times I list in "WHEN TO WATCH" should be broadly valid for most sites in North America, regardless of your time zone or exact location. You may want to look up the beginning of morning astronomical twilight for a given date at your location. This can be found from planetarium software or some weather websites. I find that skies are still good enough for meteor observing for 15-30 minutes after the beginning of morning twilight.
* Clear, dark skies are essential for a rewarding meteor-watching experience. This is why the moon causes so many problems--it's just natural light pollution. Get away from artificial light pollution as best you can--don't expect to see many meteors from an urban or suburban location. The light wipes out the fainter meteors and makes the moderately bright ones less noticeable. Try to get to a location where the Milky Way is obvious on a summer night. Obviously, clouds are a deal-breaker as well.
* The actual activity level of the shower has a big impact, of course. But I put it third on the list of factors because you have little control over it. The year's best showers generally have one night/morning that they are most active. The peak of activity may last for a few hours to many hours, but the exact timing is usually uncertain. Nevertheless, I list the "predicted maximum" time for each shower (based on past observations and the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar) along with conversions to Pacific and Eastern times. If the peak time occurs during your daylight hours (or during the night but before the radiant is high in the sky), pick the productive observing time that is nearest the peak (my "WHEN TO WATCH" gives suggestions).
* Your personal visual perception and experience also factor into how many meteors you see. For best results, make sure your eyes are dark-adapted (don't expose them to any bright or not-so-bright lights for a half-hour or so before you begin observing) and that you are comfortable.
* I get quite a few questions about "where to look". "Where to look" is usually fairly easy: center your field of view high in the darkest, least-obstructed part of your sky. If you have tall trees or an overpowering city light dome in one direction, you probably should face another direction. You don't have to look right at the shower's radiant. Indeed, you'll probably see fewer meteors if you do. But it's also nice and productive to keep the radiant somewhere within the field of view. If there's a bright Moon in the sky, keep it out of your field of view or try to block it with something, like a tree or a car or a chair...
Not all the meteors you will see belong to the major shower. Sporadic (random) meteors are visible every night of the year. From dark sites, 5 to 15 or more sporadics may be seen each hour. Sporadics are most numerous in the predawn hours, when the Earth is running head-on into a lot of cometary debris. There are also minor showers active at the same time as most major showers. Most of these produce 0 to 2 meteors per hour even at peak activity.
When a meteor appears, make a note of its path against the stars. Hold a long shoestring or cord up against the sky at arm's length along this path. If you extend the meteor's path *backward* along the cord, does it eventually cross or come close to the shower's radiant? If so, the meteor was probably a shower member. If not, the meteor was not a shower member. The "radiant charts" show the position of the radiants in the sky, along with some simulated shower meteor paths. The paths are just examples, and they aren't completely accurate due to the projection required to display the apparent dome of the sky on a flat screen, but they should give you some idea of what to look for when you wonder whether a meteor is a member of a particular shower.
Predicted Maximum: January 4, ~02:20 UT (= January 3, 6:20pm PST; = January 3, 9:20pm EST)
Moon: New Moon (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The morning of Friday, January 4th will be nearest the peak for most observers. The radiant is highes during the last hour before morning twilight. European observers are favored if the predicted maximum time is correct. Observers in northern North America may also want to watch on the evening of Thursday, January 3rd, just after twilight ends to try to catch some earthgrazing Quadrantids.
The Quadrantids are one of the three strongest annual meteor showers, but are not well-known compared to the Perseids and Geminids. The Quadrantids peak in the dead of winter, and the radiant is far enough north that tropical and southern hemisphere observers don't see much from the shower. The peak is usually rather abrupt, lasting only a few hours. Also, while circumpolar from latitudes north of 40 degrees North, the radiant is poorly placed for most of the night--low in the sky during the evening, and then getting lower and skimming the northern horizon for hours until after midnight. The radiant is highest in a dark sky at the beginning of morning twilight. All this means that the shower is often wiped out due to weather and that observed rates often fall short of their potential. I have fond memories of the 2009 Quadrantids, when I hit the maximum under good conditions and saw 133 Quadrantids in an hour. But most years something goes wrong.
2019 is a promising year for the Quadrantids because of the lack of moonlight interference. If the peak time of 2:20 UT on January 4th is roughly correct, European observers should see high rates on Friday morning. By the time the radiant is high enough over North America (I normally start watching at 1 or 2am), rates may be half or less of maximum. I'm expecting rates of perhaps 30-40 per hour over North America this year for observers under clear dark skies. If the maximum arrives a couple of hours later, or persists longer than usual, then rates will be better. An interesting opportunity for northern observers (mainly north of 40 degrees N latitude, and better the farther north you are) is to watch for earthgrazing Quadrantids. Go out just after dusk on Thursday evening, January 3rd, and look for long-pathed meteors from the north. You'll most likely see a few per hour from dark-sky sites, but maybe a few more if the shower happens to be peaking when you're looking.
Quadrantids are medium-velocity meteors. The shower usually produces quite a few fireballs around the time of maximum activity. The radiant is in a rather blank area surrounded by the constellation figures of Bootes, Hercules, Draco and Ursa Major (see the radiant charts).
Predicted Maximum: April 23, ~0:00 UT (= April 22, 5:00pm PDT; = April 22, 8:00pm EDT)
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The bright Moon nearly wipes out the Lyrids this year. Northern observers will have a window when the radiant is above the horizon and the Moon is below the horizon on the evening of Monday, April 22nd. For most areas this occurs during the hour before midnight (0 hours local time on Tuesday, April 23rd). The exact timing depends on your longitude, latitude and time zone. The radiant is still low, and Lyrid rates will likely be low as well (~5 per hour). If your skies are really dry and transparent, you might also watch on the morning of Tuesday, April 23rd, say from 2:00-4:30am when the radiant is high in the sky. Look north or northwest and keep the moon behind you, ideally obstructed behind a tree, low building or vehicle. I still would only expect about 5 Lyrids per hour from really good sites, and not much at all if you have haze in the air or artificial light pollution in addition to the Moon.
The Lyrids are a shower with a reputation for variable rates and timing. The radiant is between the bright star Vega and the Keystone of Hercules. Lyrids produce fairly fast meteors with a reputation for being faint on average. However, I've seen my share of Lyrid fireballs.
Predicted Maximum: May 5/6 (broad)
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Eta Aquariids are only visible for a short period around the time morning twilight begins. The nominal predicted peak is on the morning of Monday, May 6th, but the activity is broad. Any morning from May 4th through May 8th should produce some Eta Aquariids. The key to seeing Eta Aquariids is to watch during the last bit of darkness and through astronomical twilight (see below for timing).
The Eta Aquariids usually have the fourth-strongest maximum among the major annual showers, but are difficult to observe. The radiant doesn't rise until the morning hours, and is still very low when twilight starts to brighten the sky. The situation is better for Southern Hemisphere observers, who may get a few hours of observing time. For northerners, the key is to watch during the last hour or so before twilight gets really bright. In terms of local time this depends on your latitude and also on your longitude with respect to the center of your time zone. Check an almanac or planetarium software. At latitude 42.6 degrees North, I've had my best results from about 3:30-4:30am local daylight time. .
The low radiant elevation (in the "head" of Aquarius) means that the earliest ETAs you see will be "earthgrazers": long, relatively slow and often tracing paths along the horizon. Bright earthgrazers are spectacular. Unfortunately, because of their greater distance from the observer, earthgrazers tend to be faint. As the radiant gets a bit higher, the ETAs take on more of their typical appearance: fast meteors, bright on average and often leaving a glowing train. You'll only catch a few of them, though, because dawn is approaching. This shower seems to fluctuate irregularly, and you could easily hit either a spurt or a lull during the all-too-brief observing windows. I expect between 5 and 15 Eta Aquariids per hour from my site. All things considered, this is a good year to observe the Eta Aquariids due to the lack of moonlight.
SOUTHERN DELTA AQUARIIDS
Predicted Maximum: July 29/30 (broad)
Moon: Waning Crescent (minor interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The nominal peak for the Southern Delta Aquariids is the morning of Tuesday, July 30th. Watch from around 2am until morning twilight brightens the sky. The shower should be near maximum for a day or so on either side of this date. Observers who want to view on the weekend (i.e., Sunday, July 28th) may find the last hour or two before twilight slightly compromised by the waning crescent Moon.
The Southern Delta Aquariids are barely a major shower from 40 degrees N; southern observers have a somewhat better view. On a clear, moonless morning a North American observer might see 5-10 South Delta Aquariids each hour along with 15-25 meteors from other sources. Minor showers active at the time include the Alpha Capricornids (1-2/hour), Anthelion (1-3/hour), Piscis Austrinids (<1/hour), and the early part of the Perseids (~3/hour). Sporadic (random) meteors are also usually pretty prolific. Determining which shower a meteor came from can be a confusing exercise (see the radiant chart), and involves path length and velocity as well as alignment. Most of this activity, including the South Delta Aquariids, is faint on average. You need clear, dark skies to even begin to see a decent number of meteors.
Predicted Maximum: August 13, ~7h UT (=August 13, 12am PDT; =August 13, 3am EDT)
Moon: Waxing Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Moon makes a mess of the Perseid maximum this year. In spite of this, observers will want to catch the last hour or so before morning twilight gets too bright on Tuesday, August 13th. From my location, I see I have a brief window of about 15 minutes between moonset and the onset of astronomical twilight. I expect to observe for quite a while even before moonset, when the moon is low in the sky, and I can continue observing Perseids for 15-30 minutes past the onset of morning twilight with only gradual sky brightening. The morning of Monday, August 12th has a longer dark window of over an hour, and although Perseid rates are not likely to be near peak levels they should still be rewarding. What about the weekend? The morning of Sunday, August 11th will have a couple of hours of darkness for most sites. In 2018, I found the Perseids disappointing on the morning of August 11th, with only 22 in my lone hour of observing, but there's always a chance they might be better this year. The same goes for the morning of Saturday, August 10th.
The Perseids are probably the most-watched annual meteor shower. The shower has a very long duration, from about July 15th through August 25th, but is most interesting around its peak on August 12th or 13th. The Perseids are a great shower to start with if you want to undertake a formal count using the IMO visual observing protocol, for your own interest or to submit a report. Count for an hour or two each morning from August 10-13. How do your observed rates differ from morning to morning and hour to hour? How do moonlight and morning twilight affect your estimates of limiting magnitude? Does the mean magnitude of the Perseids differ from morning to morning? How about sporadic rates? Do you notice any members of minor showers? Do meteors appear to come in spurts followed by long lulls, or is the activity more regular?
Perseids aren't the only meteors out there--there are minor showers (including leftover Southern Delta Aquariids) and random sporadic meteors. These "extras" can add quite a few meteors to the total seen from dark sites; since sporadics are fainter on average than the Perseids, fewer are visible from light-polluted sites. Even casual observers have the chance to pick out some obvious non-Perseids that can't be traced back to the head of Perseus (see the morning radiant chart).
Perseids are fast meteors and tend to be fairly bright on average. This combination means that many Perseids will leave a glowing wake or train behind that persists anywhere from a fraction of a second to many seconds. Expect to see a few fireball-class Perseids (as bright or brighter than Venus), especially on the morning of the 13th.
Predicted Maximum: October 22? (broad and irregular)
Moon: Last Quarter (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Moon is a major annoyance during this year's Orionids. On the predicted peak morning of October 22nd, the Moon will rise just as the Orionid radiant is reaching a useful elevation (around 1:00am). Granted, the Moon is just past Last Quarter and less than half illuminated, but it will rise high in the sky during the morning hours and may cut observed meteor rates in half. The Moon rises later and wanes thinner each morning, but Orionid rates are likely to be lower as well. So, take your pick: watch on the nominal peak morning of Tuesday, October 22nd from around 12:30am until morning twilight and deal with the Moon, or do the same on any of the next three mornings and deal with less moonlight. As with the Perseids, this is a good opportunity to get used to the interplay of moonlight, radiant elevation, obstruction, and meteor activity.
The Orionids are capable of producing interesting activity from October 17th through the 25th. Traditionally, the shower produces maximum rates of about 25 per hour, with occasional enhancements to 50 per hour occurring irregularly. In recent years, the maximum rate has been closer to 20. The shower's activity is unpredictable; often one morning (perhaps even the nominal maximum of October 21st or 22nd) may be dull while another morning during the activity period is very active. I never know what to expect from this shower.
The Orionids are fast meteors, perhaps a bit faint on average but the shower has some larger meteoroids capable of producing fireballs. As with the Eta Aquariids, the Orionids are debris associated with Halley's Comet. Note that the radiant is north of Betelgeuse and not right in the middle of Orion (see the radiant chart). The Orionids are joined by several minor showers (the Taurid complex, the Epsilon Geminids, and the Leonis Minorids) that each typically produce 1-2 meteors per hour.
Predicted Maximum: November 18
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Leonids are a lunar casualty this year. Not only is the Moon bright, but it is poorly placed so that you can't keep the Moon out of your field of view and the Leonid radiant within your field of view. Given the recent low activity of the Leonids, I don't think they are worth watching this year.
The Leonids are well-known for the spectacular storms they have produced in the past. Nothing like that is predicted for this year, and during off years the shower can be marginal, producing about 10 meteors per hour. That might translate into 3 per hour with this year's lunar interference.
The Leonids are very fast meteors, and brighter ones often leave glowing wakes or persistent trains.
Predicted Maximum: December 14, ~18:30 UT (=10:30am PST; =1:30pm EST)
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Moon is in a horrible place during the Geminid maximum, just past full and not far from the Geminid radiant. When the Geminid radiant is high in the sky during the morning hours and rates should be highest, the Moon will be glaring up there as well. The situation is even worse than that of the Leonids, above, but the Geminids are a much more prolific shower. So, if you've got clear skies, go ahead and watch. You may end up facing the opposite direction from the Geminid radiant in order to keep the Moon out of your field of view, but most or all of the meteors you see will be Geminids anyway. The peak should occur on Saturday morning, December 14th. Another observing opportunity is on Saturday evening, December 14th. The Moon doesn't move very far out of the way, and is still 90% illuminated, but there is a little dark window between radiant-rise and moonrise (say, 6:30-7:30pm from my location--exact timing will depend on your location). Rates should be low because of the low radiant elevation, but there could be a few impressive Geminid earthgrazers. The Geminids have a reputation for producing more bright meteors after the peak.
The Geminids show a broad peak that is somewhat variable in timing. This is often considered the best annual shower, especially in locales where winters are mild. If the peak occurs during nighttime hours when the radiant is high, 100+ Geminids per hour are a definite possibility under dark skies. This year, 20 Geminids might be a good haul for a peak hour.
Geminids are medium-speed meteors. Most of them don't leave glowing trains, but the brighter ones are often colored (yellow, green and blue are most common, and I usually see some fireballs with a violet tinge). The Geminids seem to produce quite a few fireballs, especially during and just after the peak. Pre-peak Geminids are fainter on average.
Other Sources of Meteor Activity
The major showers listed here are fairly reliable and occur every year. However, meteor activity is visible on any clear night. Random sporadic meteors, minor showers, and major showers near the beginning or end of their activity period all contribute to this "background". For the Northern Hemisphere, there is a general pattern of lower rates during the first half of the year and higher rates during the second half, but rates vary greatly from hour to hour, day to day, and observer to observer. Occasionally, unexpected high activity occurs. It is up to the observer to objectively describe what was seen. In many cases, high activity may be ascribed to randomness. Rarely, many of the meteors seen may be members of a periodic or previously unknown shower.
Other Meteor Shower Info.
General shower attributes and predicted times of maximum are adapted from personal data and also from the International Meteor Organization's 2019 Meteor Shower Calendar. Recent data at http://www.imo.net/members/imo_live_shower was also examined. Radiant charts were produced using maps from the free Cartes du Ciel application. All on-site text and contents are Copyright 2018 by Wes Stone and may be reproduced for not-for-profit use so long as credit is given.