What are meteor showers?
An increase in the number of meteors at a particular time of year is called a meteor shower.
Comets shed the debris that becomes most meteor showers. As comets orbit the Sun, they shed an icy, dusty debris stream along the comet’s orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Depending on where Earth and the stream meet, meteors appear to fall from a particular place in the sky, maybe within the neighborhood of a constellation.
Meteor showers are named by the constellation from which meteors appear to fall, a spot in the sky astronomers call the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is located in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.
The next meteor shower is the Quadrantids on the night of January 3, 2012. This shower is one of the year’s most active, with perhaps 80 to 100 meteors per hour at its peak. The peak lasts only an hour or two, however, so the viewing window is brief. The Moon sets by around 3 a.m., leaving a few hours of unobstructed viewing before dawn.
Date of Peak
night of January 3
Sets after midnight
night of April 21
night of May 5
night of August 13
night of October 21
night of November 17
night of December 13
NOTES These are approximate times for the Lower 48 states; actual shower times can vary. Bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest meteors.