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Active from Dec. 28, 2022, to Jan. 12, 2023. Peak night: Jan. 3 to 4
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. It can be one of the strongest showers of the year, though poor winter weather and a short window for peak viewing often mean that it can fall short of its potential.
The Quadrantids’ maximum activity will happen close to a full moon this year — bad news for those interested in seeing many meteors. The best practice in such cases is to stand in a place where a tall object like a building or a tree is blocking the moon’s bright light.
While the shower can produce up to 120 visible meteors per hour, predicted rates are closer to 25 per hour in dark skies because of clouds. It will be best viewed in Europe, during a six-hour window after midnight in various time zones. People in Asia and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have a chance of seeing fireballs as well.
Here’s what you need to know about watching meteor showers:
Even as the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter’s chill, our planet on Wednesday morning will be at perihelion, the closest it gets to the sun during its elliptical orbit. Learn more about planetary orbits and the search for life around the galaxy.
After 17 days in space, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during its return to Earth. The seven astronauts aboard all died: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon and Kalpana Chawla. The disaster led to the decision to retire the remaining space shuttle fleet, transforming American human spaceflight.
NASA has relied on private companies to create new capabilities for the government agency, such as building spacecraft to carry astronauts and cargo to orbit. It is now trying a similar approach for transporting scientific instruments to the moon. A Houston company, Intuitive Machines, may launch its IM-1 mission, using its Nova-C spacecraft to carry payloads to the lunar surface. Intuitive Machines, flying on a SpaceX rocket, says it will launch from March through May. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the company announces one.
The vernal equinox is one of two points in Earth’s orbit where the sun creates equal periods of daytime and nighttime across the globe. Many people mark it as the first day of the spring. See what it looks like from space.
A Japanese rocket could launch the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or XRISM (pronounced chrism), a space observatory that uses X-ray spectroscopy to study plasma in space. The telescope will help scientists better understand the composition of the universe and how it was formed. Along for the ride will be a moon mission called SLIM, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. The 420-pound spacecraft will test lunar landing techniques for future missions. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announces one.
In 2021, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire founder of the payments processor Shift4, took three people to space with him for the mission called Inspiration4. In 2022, he announced there would be additional flights. In 2023, with a new crew in the SpaceX Dragon capsule, Mr. Isaacman wants to fly to a higher orbit and attempt a spacewalk. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Polaris Program announces it.
Boeing and SpaceX once were racing to be the first to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a privately built spacecraft. That race ended in 2020 with SpaceX coming out the victor. After technical problems in 2019 and 2021, Boeing finally sent an uncrewed Starliner to the space station in 2022. Now, it will fly a crew of astronauts to the orbital outpost, expanding the number of spacecraft capable of carrying humans to orbit. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when Boeing and NASA announce it.
Jupiter and some of its satellite worlds are the focus of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission led by the European Space Agency. In addition to studying the gas giant world, three of its moons will be studied by the spacecraft’s instruments: Callisto, Ganymede and Europa, all of which are believed to have oceans beneath their surfaces.
This eclipse will primarily be a Southern Hemisphere event, and the moon will only blot out the sun in remote parts of Australia and Indonesia, with partial eclipses visible in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
Active from April 15 to 29. Peak night: April 22 to 23
The first springtime shower will peak shortly after a new moon, giving skywatchers the chance to see up to 18 meteors per hour. It is a morning shower, best viewed in the 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. The nights immediately before and after the shower’s peak are also good times to catch a few streaks across the sky originating from this comet.
Launched in December, Ispace’s M1 lander has been taking a slow, fuel-efficient journey to the moon. The spacecraft will try for the first successful lunar landing by a privately built spacecraft, deploying to the surface a United Arab Emirates rover, a Japanese robot and other cargo. We will provide a more precise landing date for this mission when Ispace announces it.
In what would be the first private mission to another planet, the company Rocket Lab is sending a Photon spacecraft toward Venus where it will fire a small probe to briefly study the toxic world’s atmosphere. We will provide a more precise landing date for this mission when Rocket Lab announces it.
Active from April 15 to May 27. Peak night: May 5 to 6
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. In past years, the Eta Aquariids have produced 45 to 85 meteors per hour in dark sky conditions.
Unfortunately, the peak for this shower coincides with a full moon on May 5, limiting visibility. But the shower should be highly active for roughly a week before and after that date.
It’s the scientific start to summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts toward the sun. Read more about the importance of the solstice for life on Earth.
Even as the Northern Hemisphere experiences the heat of summer, our planet is at aphelion, the farthest it will get from the sun during its elliptical orbit. Read more about aphelion, and what it’s like on other worlds in our solar system.
Active from July 18 to Aug. 21. Peak night: July 30 to 31
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 very near full during the peak itself, but streaks from the shower should be observable for a week before or after the peak night. The Southern Delta Aquariids are expected to produce around 20 meteors per hour under dark skies, and are best seen around 3 a.m.
While India successfully orbited a spacecraft around the moon in 2019, its attempt to land a rover to explore the lunar surface ended in a dramatic crash. The country’s space program is trying again. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Indian Space Research Organization announces it.
Active from July 14 to Sept. 1. Peak night: Aug. 12 to 13
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. The shower is visible only in the Northern Hemisphere, in latitudes below 60 degrees north.
This year, the moon will be a slim crescent in the sky, and our planet will be running into a trail of dust that Swift-Tuttle released in 68 B.C., meaning that conditions should be good for the shower. Nobody knows exactly how many meteors may be seen, though some predict around 100 per hour under dark skies.
The autumnal equinox is one of two points in Earth’s orbit where the sun creates equal periods of daytime and nighttime across the globe. Many mark it as the first day of the fall. See what it looks like from space.
In October 2020, a NASA spacecraft swooped in on Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, and scooped up rock and dirt from its surface. It then packed away the material and prepared for return to Earth. It began that voyage home in May 2021. The spacecraft will eject a capsule full of asteroid samples that will then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range to be studied by scientists.
India has launched spacecraft to the moon and Mars, but the country’s space agency has not yet sent its astronauts — known as vyomanauts — to space. Before it can send people to orbit, India needs to conduct uncrewed test flights of its Gaganyaan spacecraft, the first of which it says will occur in the fourth quarter. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Indian Space Research Organization announces one.
In the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, there is an object that is mostly made of metal, perhaps the leftover core of a would-be planet, called Psyche. A NASA mission of the same name aims to study it up close. A scheduled launch in 2022 was postponed because the spacecraft’s software was late. The mission will launch from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it will enter orbit around the asteroid in 2029, three years later than originally planned.
Some of the United States will be visited by what is sometimes called a “ring of fire” eclipse because the moon is too far from Earth to fully block the sun, creating a ring-like effect when it reaches totality. The eclipse’s path runs through parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before dipping into Central and South America. Where the weather cooperates, it should be a great solar show and a nice lead up for the total eclipse on Apr. 8, 2024, which will cross the United States from Southwest to Northeast.
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 to 20 streaks per hour, although in exceptional years it can create up to 70 per hour.
The moon will be around a third full this year but will set around midnight, leaving the sky clear of its influence. The shower will be viewable all over the world between midnight and 4 a.m. local time.
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, the shower’s rates exceeded 1,000 fireballs per hour. This year’s show should be a more placid 15 meteors per hour or so, as the Earth hits debris fields released from its parent body, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The moon will be around a quarter 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.
China is getting into the orbital space telescope business. Like a more sophisticated version of the Hubble Space Telescope, Xuntian will survey the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths from an orbit around Earth close to the country’s Tiangong space station. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the China National Space Administration announces it.
The Andromedids are a historical shower previously thought to be defunct. Accounts by astronomers in China from 1872 and 1885 describe incredible meteor displays in which “stars fell like rain.” But the event had not produced much until 2011, when around 50 meteors per hour could be seen. It also produced a short and quite strong return in 2021.
Originating from comet 3D/Biela, the Andromedids are expected to flare once again this year, although nobody knows how strong they may be. If they appear, the meteors will be visible in Asia in the late evening just before midnight. The rising three-quarters-full moon is likely to hamper visibility after that.
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 during a new moon this year, providing ideal conditions as long as the weather cooperates.
Viewers in northern latitudes should be able to start seeing the shower in the evening after sunset, while the action begins for those in the Southern Hemisphere after midnight. Rates could be as high as 150 meteors per hour.
It’s the scientific start to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts away from the sun. Read more about the solstice.
Active from Dec. 17 to 26. Peak night: Dec. 22 to 23
Coming shortly after the Geminids, the Ursids are an often-overlooked minor shower that gets its name because they seem to spring from the Little Dipper, which is part of Ursa Minor.
The Ursid meteor shower will peak shortly after the new moon, meaning they will only be somewhat affected by its light. Viewers can expect to see seven to 10 meteors per hour, although it is strictly a Northern Hemisphere affair.
You wouldn’t want to live on Io, the rambunctious volcanic moon of Jupiter. But you might want to get a good look at its eruptions (from a safe distance). So would the scientists working on NASA’s Juno mission. After years of studying the atmosphere and interior of Jupiter, the spacecraft has conducted close flybys of two less perilous moons, Ganymede and Europa. The first close flyby of Io will bring Juno within 1,000 miles of the satellite world and its outbursts.
On any given night, far from bright city lights, there’s a chance that you’ll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. But on special dates scattered throughout the year, skywatchers can catch a multitude of flares as meteor showers burst in the darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris fields 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.
The coming year should be a good one for meteor lovers. The biggest events — the summer Perseids and the winter Geminids — will peak when the moon is either waning or new, meaning its bright light won’t interfere much with the spectacular displays.
Those outside the United States may catch a glimpse of the Andromedids, a shower that astronomers had considered dead until it showed some activity in 2011 and is expected to potentially return again this year.
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How to see a shower
The best practice is to head out to the countryside and get as far 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,” Robert Lunsford, the secretary general of the International Meteor Organization, said in an interview with The New York Times in 2022.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. 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 lie back and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Mr. 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 plowing into the densest portion of the debris field, though in some cases many meteors can still be seen before or after that specific night.
A shower is named for a constellation in the part of the sky it appears 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.