Meteor Showers Will Put on Stunning Shows in 2021. Here's How to See Them All.
Every chance you'll have in 2020 to watch meteors light up the sky.
It'd be an incredible feat to magically have every meteor shower land perfectly at a new moon, to get the most bang for your meteor shower buck throughout an entire year. One of the largest obstacles to seeing meteors on a night when a shower peaks is the brightness of the moon. It can wash out our view of the meteors, which are debris fragments left behind by comets burning up as they enter Earth's atmosphere.
That fantasy is not going to happen this year. In 2021, we can be thankful that the biggest meteor showers are going to give us a chance to be awed by their beauty. "We'll get a great view of the Perseids, and an okay view of the Geminids," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office told Thrillist, as he walked us through the year in meteor showers.
"If I were a casual observer," Cooke said, "the only two meteor showers I'd spend an effort looking at would be the Perseids and the Geminids. They're the only ones whose [rates of visible meteors per hour] are up there enough to keep people's attention. The others are nice, don't get me wrong, but if you want something to take your girlfriend out and impress her, it's the Perseids or the Geminids."
No matter if you're taking a date to see dark skies or you want to catch every opportunity that comes along, here's what Cooke says we can expect from the remaining meteor showers on the calendar in 2021.
Peak: April 21-22
It's been a long time since the Quadrantid meteor shower took place in early January. That was the last time we got a significant meteor shower. Cooke says to expect 10-20 meteors per hour with the Lyrids this year. Unfortunately, a first-quarter moon is going to cause some interference for anyone looking early in the night. Your best bet is to look for the Lyrids in the few hours before dawn on the morning of April 22.
Peak: May 5-6
The shower that generates from the debris of Halley's Comet could produce up to 40 meteors per hour in 2021. However, the meteors are faint. That means you really need to get to dark skies to see all of the visible meteors from the Eta Aquarids.
"You've got a last-quarter moon. So, you want to start observing around 2 am and go to dawn," Cooke said. "The Eta Aquarids are very faint. They require a good dark sky. They're kind of an out in the boondocks country meteor shower."
Southern Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower
Peak: July 29-30
The SDAs are another shower with faint meteors and could produce around 20 meteors per hour. But a last-quarter moon is "going to mess with them big time," Cooke said. "The moon will probably wash out the Southern Delta Aquarids this year." You can still go meteor hunting, but this isn't going to be an exciting viewing opportunity.
Peak: August 11-12
This will likely be the best meteor shower of the year, according to Cooke. That's often the case. The Perseids arrive with great weather and the potential to produce up to 100 meteors an hour. It's also a display that's rich in fireballs, which are meteors that burn brightly as they crash through Earth's atmosphere. Go out around 11 pm on August 11. That's when you'll start to see a good number of meteors streaking across the sky. "You'll also have good rates on the night of August 12," Cooke notes. "Personally, though, I'd go out on the night of August 11."
Unnamed Meteor Shower
Peak: October 6-7
One interesting note on this year's calendar is an unnamed meteor shower.
"The Earth will encounter, for the first time, debris from Comet 15P-Finley," Cooke said. "The models indicate there will be rates of 30 to 50 meteors per hour." But he emphasizes the gigantic asterisks attached to this one, which may get more attention in the fall. "These meteors will be very slow moving, and I mean very, very slow," he says. That slow speed means they're expected to be very faint meteors, possibly so faint that nothing at all is really seen. Moreover, the shower is only going to be visible—if it's visible—in southern South America. "For northern hemisphere observers, it's not going to matter much at all," he said.
Southern Taurid Meteor Shower
Peak: October 10-11
The first of the two long-running Taurid showers peaks the night of October 10. Though, both showers are quite tepid. They both have a peak rate of just 3-5 meteors per hour. However, the meteors tend to be quite bright, and the shower runs for a very long time. You may see Southern Taurid meteors streaking across the sky from September 10 to November 20.
Orionid Meteor Shower
Peak: October 20-21
It's a bad year for the Orionids. The rate of meteors during the peak on the morning of October 21 can be up to 20, but there's a big problem this year. "You've got a full moon that's going to completely wash them out because, like the Eta Aquarids, they're faint," Cooke said.
Northern Taurid Meteor Shower
Peak: November 12-13
Like the Southern Taurids, you're not going to see a whole lot on the night of the peak. The maximum rate will be 3-5 meteors per hour. Though, the few meteors that do appear should be bright. This is similarly a long-running shower, with meteors appearing from October 20 to December 10.
Leonid Meteor Shower
Peak: November 16-17
The Leonids are up next, capable of producing about 10 meteors per hour this year. However, this is another shower that's probably not going to be worth your time due to moonlight, according to Cooke. Most of the meteors will be obscured by a bright moon throughout the night.
Geminid Meteor Shower
Peak: December 13-14
Alongside the Perseids, the Geminids are always one to keep your eye on. This year, they're expected to show off more than 100 meteors per hour. Like others on this list, though, there are lunar obstacles.
"On the night of the peak, the moon will set around 2 am," Cooke said. "So, you'll have from 2 am to dawn to see the Geminids in all their glory. Normally, you can start seeing Geminids just a couple of hours after sunset."
Earlier in the evening, the moon will wash out the fainter Geminids. Though, you'll still be able to see the fireballs that come along with the shower. But, to get the full effect, you'll want to wait until late at night or early in the morning to go meteor hunting.
How to watch a meteor shower
No matter what shower you're chasing down, you're going to need dark skies. The light pollution of cities, which reaches farther than many people realize, will obscure much of the night sky, including meteors. You need to get far away from cities, into a rural area.
Once there, it can help to sit on the ground and lean back while looking up. That position can help you to see as much of the night sky as possible. That's important because a meteor can appear anywhere in the sky. Each shower has a radiant point from which the meteors appear to emanate if you trace them back to their origin. However, the meteors will be moving away from that point all across the sky. You'll see the most meteors if you're taking in as much of the sky as possible.
In addition to getting away from light pollution, you'll want to keep your phone tucked away. It can be handy, initially, to use an app to find the radiant or identify objects in the sky, but the light from your phone or other devices will negatively impact your night vision. It can take a long time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and allow you to see as much as possible. You'll ruin that adjustment by looking at your phone or other lights.
Then you're on your way. Just be patient and keep your eyes on the sky.