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Meteor showers that will peak in night skies in 2022

Meteor showers occur when our planet
runs into the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going
around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to
blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any
given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year, with the
changing phases of the bright moon being the main variable affecting their
visibility.

How to see a shower

The best practice is to head out to the
countryside and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible.
People in rural areas may have the luxury of just stepping outside. But
city-dwellers have options, too.

Many cities have an astronomical society
that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and
finding out where they have their location,” said Robert Lunsford,
secretary-general of the International Meteor Organization.

Meteor showers are usually best viewed
when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. In order to see as
many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after you get to your viewing
location. That will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lay back and
take in a large swathe of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and
times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Lunsford suggested a good rule
of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”

Binoculars or telescopes aren’t
necessary for meteor showers, and in fact will limit your view.

How meteor showers form

Each shower peaks on a certain date when
Earth is ploughing into the densest portion of the debris field, though in some
cases many meteors can still be seen before or after that specific night.

Showers are named for a constellation in
the part of the sky they appear to streak from. But there’s no need to be
perfectly versed in every detail of the celestial sphere. Meteors should be
visible all over the sky during any given shower.

This year will be a fairly sedate one
for meteor showers. The biggest events — the summer Perseids and the winter
Geminids — both have the unfortunate luck of occurring during bright moon
phases, which will wash out many trails. But enthusiasts may be treated to a
new shower, called the Tau Herculids, which is predicted to be potentially
visible for the first time in 2022. Below is a calendar with your best options
to catch a nice show throughout the year.

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The Quadrantids

Active from Dec 26, 2021 to Jan 16,
2022. Peak night: Jan 2 to 3

The year starts with the Quadrantid
meteor shower, named after Quadrans Muralis, an archaic constellation that
modern astronomers lump in with the constellation known as Boötes. There is a
possibility it will be one of the strongest showers of the year.

The Quadrantids’ maximum activity occurs
one day after the new moon, so conditions should be optimal for viewing. While
the shower can have up to 120 visible meteors per hour, it happens in January
when the weather may be more likely to be cloudy, meaning that predicted rates
are closer to 25 per hour in dark skies. The event is also most active during a
short six-hour window. It will be best viewed from East Asia, around 2 a.m. in
various time zones, because that is the part of the Earth that will be facing
the debris field. But people in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have a
chance of seeing many fireballs.

The Lyrids

Active from Apr 15 to 29. Peak night:
Apr 21 to 22

The first springtime shower will peak
when the moon is two-thirds full, which could limit visibility. It is a morning
shower, best viewed in the early hours before dawn in the Northern Hemisphere,
though some activity will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere. The meteors
originate from a comet called C/1861 G1, also known as Thatcher, and is
predicted to be much stronger in 2023, when the moon will be a tiny crescent,
allowing up to 18 meteors per hour to be visible.

The Eta Aquariids

Active from Apr 15 to May 27. Peak
night: May 4 to 5

The Eta Aquariids are one of two showers
resulting from the debris field of Halley’s comet, along with the Orionids in
October. Debris will enter over Earth’s equator, meaning it will be visible in
both hemispheres all over the world. Moonlight will be minimal during peak
times, which should be between 3 a.m. and twilight on May 5. But the shower
should be highly active for roughly a week before and after that date. In past
years, the Eta Aquariids have produced between 45-85 fireballs per hour in dark
sky conditions.

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The Tau Herculids

Potentially active from the end of May
to early June. Peak nights: Possibly May 29 to 31

In 1930, astronomers spotted comet
73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3 to its friends) and a possible meteor shower
was predicted as Earth passed close to its debris field. Little activity has
been detected since then. But in 1995, comet SW3 had a tremendous breakup,
splitting into multiple pieces that spewed a lot of dust. Our planet has a nice
chance of hitting its field this year, although some astronomers’ calculations
suggest it may not happen. The moon will be new on the night of May 30, meaning
conditions should be great for meteor viewing. The event will be most visible
in parts of North and Central America, with optimal spots ranging from Southern
California and Mexico to Texas.

The Southern Delta Aquariids

Active from Jul 18 to Aug 21. Peak
night: Jul 29 to 30

This shower is one of the best for
viewers in the southern tropics, though it will also be visible low in the sky
for those in the Northern Hemisphere. The moon will be a skinny crescent just
past new during the peak. Streaks from the shower should be observable for a
week before or after the peak evening. The Southern Delta Aquariids are
predicted to produce between 15-20 meteors per hour under dark skies, and are
best seen around 3 a.m.

The Perseids

Active from Jul 14 to Sept 1. Peak
night: Aug 11 to 12

Warm summer nights and high rates of
fireballs make the Perseids one of the most popular showers of the year.
Originating from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which comes back often through the
inner solar system, the Perseids frequently put on a great show. But this year,
the moon will be full on the shower’s peak night and up almost all night,
greatly cutting down on visibility. Getting to dark skies and waiting until the
early hours of the morning might still allow you to see between 15-20 meteors
per hour.

The Orionids

Active from Sept 26 to Nov 22. Peak
night: Oct 20 to 21

After hitting the outbound trail of
Halley’s comet in May, Earth every October runs into the debris the comet
leaves as it heads toward the sun, producing the Orionid meteor shower. It is a
medium-strength shower, usually producing 10-20 streaks per hour, although in
exceptional years it can create up to 75 per hour. The moon will be at 20% full
this year, meaning visibility should be good. It will be viewable all over the
world between midnight and 4 a.m. local time.

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The Leonids

Active from Nov 3 to Dec 2. Peak night:
Nov 17 to 18

The Leonids are famous for occasionally
producing meteor storms. In 1966, 1999 and 2001, its rates exceeded 1,000
fireballs per hour. This year’s show should be a more placid 15 meteors per
hour or so as our planet is not forecast to encounter any dense debris fields
from the shower’s parent comet, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, until 2099. The moon will be
around a third full on the night of peak activity. The shower will be best
viewed in the Northern Hemisphere after midnight, and later at night for those
in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Geminids

Active from Dec 4 to 17. Peak night: Dec
13 to 14

Often one of the best and most reliable
showers of the year, the Geminids will occur six days after the moon is full in
2022, greatly interfering with their light. Viewers in northern latitudes
should have about three hours to see them after the sun sets but before the
moon rises, when they can expect perhaps 5-10 meteors per hour. Even when the
moon is up, its place in the sky will not be close to the constellation where
this shower radiates from, Gemini, so observers can try to get the moon behind
a wall or other obstruction for increased visibility.

The Ursids

Active from Dec 17 to 26. Peak night:
Dec 22 to 23

While the Geminids are poorly placed
with regards to the moon’s phases, a minor shower that seems to spring from the
Little Dipper (part of Ursa Minor) should be a safer bet for observers. The
Ursid meteor shower will peak close to the new moon, meaning that interference
will be significantly less than during the Geminids. Viewers can expect to see
7-10 meteors per hour, although it is strictly a Northern Hemisphere affair.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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