The arrival of a new year is not just something to be measured in terms of days and resolutions that we have begun to forget. Earth is preparing for another trip around the Sun and preparing to pass through the same places it visited last year. That doesn’t mean it’s stuck in a rut – it means it’s time to start looking for meteor showers, as we make our way through the meteor streams left behind by our interplanetary neighbors.
The Northern Hemisphere’s biggest meteor showers – the Quadrantids, Perseids and Geminids – arrive in January, August and December, but there are plenty of other shows worth staying up late – or waking up to. get up very early. Here are the dates, times, tips and stories for the biggest meteor showers to come in 2023.
Quadrantids 2023: dates, times and how to watch
The quadrantids start the year from New Year’s Day 2023. These meteors are the debris of the object called 2003 EH1 – although no one really knows what it is. It could be the nucleus of a dead comet or a “rocky comet”, an asteroid that crackles and breaks up into dust as it bakes as it passes near the Sun.
This year, the Quadrantids will last until January 5, but will peak on the night of January 3-4. The meteor shower is estimated to be at its peak around 10 p.m. Eastern Time. With clear dark skies and no moon, you can expect up to 100 meteors per hour to come out of Bootes.
Unfortunately, there will be a Full Moon a few days later on January 6 – so all but the brightest meteors crossing the January sky could be wiped out.
The peak should last four to six hours, so be sure to let your eyes adjust to the darkness while you have the chance.
Lyrids 2023: dates, times and how to see
The Lyrids sound (strum? play??) in the spring in the second half of April this year. One of the oldest consistently observed meteor showers, dating from 687 BCE Zuo Zhuan of the Spring and Autumn period in China — the Lyrids are the debris thrown off by the long-period comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered on its closest approach to the Sun in 1861 but would not return until 2283.
The Lyrids are much stronger than the average meteor shower from a long-period comet because, despite its 415-year orbit, it is much more frequent than other long-period comets; the longest, Hyakutake, has an orbital period of about 70,000 years.
The meteor shower will begin on April 16 and continue through April 25, and will peak on the night of April 22-23, a night just before the new moon when the Moon sets early in the evening. Expect about 20 meteors per hour at the summit just after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. About a quarter will be so-called Lyrid fireballs, which leave behind a bright trail of ionized gas.
Eta Aquariids 2023: dates, times and how to see
The Eta Aquariids are one of the strongest meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere, but they’re still amazing in the northern half of the world. Splashing across the sky from the direction of the constellation Aquarius between April 19 and May 28, the meteors will peak in intensity around 11 a.m. Eastern Time. If you’re in the Americas, try to catch them just before dawn on the mornings of May 5-7 – but even then the Moon will be full on May 5, so they could be swept away by its bright face.
In the southern hemisphere, you might be able to see 60 meteors per hour. In the northern hemisphere, there could be between a third and a sixth, the further south you go.
The Eta Aquariids have the honor of being the larger of the two meteor showers dropped by Halley’s Comet. Although it is currently well beyond Neptune and will not pass Earth again until 2061, the debris left in its orbit during our passage causes rain. And because Halley’s Comet is in a retrograde orbit – it’s going the wrong way relative to the planets – we pass through it again in October, causing the little Orionid meteor shower.
Delta Aquarids 2023: dates, times and how to see
The Delta Aquariids come out of Aquarius at the height of summer, from July 12 to August 23. This unusually long meteor shower falls without a substantial peak, although a peak is expected after midnight on the night of July 28-29. Like the Etas, however, this peak will be hampered by the appearance of a full supermoon a few days later on August 1.
Luckily for viewing, they will continue steadily through August and overlap with the Perseids. And like the Eta Aquariids, they are more spectacular the further south you are.
The Delta Aquariids are the remnants of comet 96P/Machholz, one of the strangest comets, which passed through its closest brush with the sun in January. 96/Machholz passes closer to the sun than almost any other comet and has an unusually eccentric, out-of-plane orbit. And in 2008, astronomers noted that 96P/Machholz had a strange composition: its tail lacked only carbon – leading to suggestions that it could have been captured after forming around another star, or that it came from the Oort cloud, or that it was altered by its exposure to the extreme heat of the sun.
Perseids 2023: dates, times and how to see
The Perseids this year will blow your mind [freeze you in your tracks?]. Unlike last year, when a full moon interfered with the peak of the long meteor shower, the moon will wane to a new moon at its predicted high just before 3 a.m. August 13.
The longest and most exciting fireworks show of the summer, the Perseids will hit up to 90 meteors per hour, with colorful fireballs and many, many trails lingering as the comet’s large debris particles 109P/Swift-Tuttle slice through the atmosphere. As their name suggests, they will come from the direction of the constellation Perseus.
109P/Swift-Tuttle is itself by far the largest asteroid or comet to regularly pass Earth, earning it the title of one of the most dangerous objects known. But right now there’s not much to worry about – Swift-Tuttle is heading for the outer solar system after a visit in 1992 and won’t return until 2126.
The Perseids, like most meteor showers, are best seen in the hours before dawn, when the sky above you is pointed directly in the path of Earth’s orbit – and therefore directly in the path of Perseids.
Leonids 2023: dates, times and how to watch
The Leonids come roaring across the night sky throughout November this year, starting November 3 and continuing through December 2. Their peak is expected just after midnight — 12:33 p.m. Eastern Time — on Nov. 18, though the pre-dawn morning of the 17th should be nearly as good.
The Leonids vary much more from year to year than other meteor showers, so much so that astronomers lost sight of the comet that causes them, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, for a century. The comet was first discovered twice – once by French astronomer William Tempel in 1865, then again 17 days later in the United States by Horace Tuttle, who had yet to hear the news. But when severe downpours failed to show up the next time they passed – in 1899 – or the period after – 1932 – the observatories found they had better things to do with their time.
It wasn’t until 1965 that it was spotted again – and in 1966 thousands of meteors fell every minute for 15 minutes on the morning of November 17. So make a special note for November 2034, when the Leonids are set to pounce with their biggest show. in 33 years, a cyclonic peak with hundreds of meteors every hour.
2023 may not be quite as spectacular, but with little interference from a first quarter Moon setting in the evening, it should still be a real circus in the sky.
Geminids 2023: Dates, Times and How to Watch
With their bold peaks in the cold December night sky, the Geminids will make you feel like you’re seeing double – but that’s just their expected 150 meteors per hour, the strongest show in the Northern Hemisphere.
This year, the Geminids will take place from December 7 to 17, and you’re in luck with the viewing conditions. Their peak will be on the evening of December 13, a day after a new moon – so the skies should be dark enough for an exciting sight.
This stream of meteorites is not the result of a comet but, like the Quadrantids, of a “rocky comet”, 3200 Phaethon. As Phaethon approaches the sun – just 0.14 AU, away in Mercury’s orbit – it brightens, warms and bakes, getting hot enough to vaporize sodium, which likely drives chunks of l asteroid to burn up and flake off like a comet.