The Final Meteor Shower of 2020 Peaks Tonight. Here's How to See It.
The Ursid meteor shower arrives tonight. Last call on 2020 meteor showers.
The Ursid meteor shower is pretty much always overshadowed by the Geminids. This year, it got buried even deeper. It's been overshadowed by the Geminids, beautiful conjunctions, and the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Plus, it's cold. The shower has worked hard for the nickname "cursed Ursids."
Nonetheless, the Ursids are the last significant meteor shower of the year, peaking the night of December 21 into the morning of December 22. It will not produce 100 or more meteors per hour like the Geminids, but you're going to see meteors. That's always a cause for celebration if you enjoy geeking out with the night sky.
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that stargazers should expect to see around ten meteors per hour this year. Occasionally, the Ursids have an outburst and produce a whole lot of meteors. That, however, is not in this year's forecast. Though the Geminids are still active, it's at the tail end of its activity for the year. So, you may see a couple of its fireballs to liven up the show, but don't expect too many.
How to see the Ursid meteor shower
The Ursids last from around December 17 to 26, but the peak comes on the morning of December 22. The American Meteor Society calls it a sharp peak, so you might see meteors on the surrounding days, but it's a notable increase at the peak. Viewers in the northern hemisphere are advised to go meteor hunting at about 1 am local time, per EarthSky.
The timing should lend itself to good viewing. The moon will set before 1 am, and it won't cause any interference that could obscure meteors from sight. Like most meteor showers, the Ursids get their name because of the constellation in which the radiant point lies. Look for Ursa Minor high in the sky at that time. The meteors will not be crossing the radiant, but if you trace them backward they will appear to have radiated out from the handle of the constellation.
You're going to need to get away from the light pollution of the city to see meteors. Light pollution reaches surprisingly far out from populated areas, and it can obscure your ability to see meteors. With so few appearing in the Ursids, you don't want to lose any. There are, however, sites like Light Pollution Map or Dark Site Finder that can help you find the darkest skies near your home.
It's not the year's most exciting celestial show of the year or even the month, but meteors are always exciting to spot. Plus, you were probably already planning on being out earlier in the night to see the great conjunction anyhow. Make it a whole night of stargazing.