Major Meteor Showers in 2023
I had an active 2022, and got in at least one observing session for each of the major showers, even though the timing and moonlight conditions weren’t favorable for most. I didn’t have any exceptional meteor observing sessions; the best was probably for the Tau Herculids, which fell far short of the hyped possible storm but were still a very enjoyable shower.
In 2023, the Moon will be much less of a problem for the Perseids and Geminids, so these should be considered can’t-miss shower peaks. Moonlight casualties are the Quadrantids and the Eta Aquariids.
This page gives observing prospects for the 9 most dependable and prolific meteor showers for Northern Hemisphere observers (descriptions will be most accurate for mid-Northern observers in North America–East Asian observers especially will want to check their local date as the corresponding local date may be one day later than the date given in the “When to Watch” section). The biggest problems for visual meteor observers are the weather, natural light pollution from the Moon, and artificial light pollution. The Moon is predictable and unavoidable, and I have listed the lunar phase and amount of interference with each shower below.
Basic Meteor Observing Information
Several factors determine how many meteors you will see from a shower.
* One of the most important is the elevation of the shower radiant when you're watching. For most showers, the radiant is highest in the morning hours, and that's when you can expect the best rates. If the radiant is near or below the horizon, don't expect to see any shower meteors even if the sky is dark. For each shower, I list a "WHEN TO WATCH" window when the radiant is at a useful elevation. The local times I list in "WHEN TO WATCH" should be broadly valid for most sites in North America, regardless of your time zone or exact location. You may want to look up the beginning of morning astronomical twilight for a given date at your location. This can be found from planetarium software or some weather websites. I find that skies are still good enough for meteor observing for 15-30 minutes after the beginning of morning twilight.
* Clear, dark skies are essential for a rewarding meteor-watching experience. This is why the Moon causes so many problems--it's just natural light pollution. Get away from artificial light pollution as best you can--don't expect to see many meteors from an urban or suburban location. The light wipes out the fainter meteors and makes the moderately bright ones less noticeable. Try to get to a location where the Milky Way is easily visible. Obviously, clouds are a deal-breaker as well.
* The actual activity level of the shower has a big impact, of course. But I put it third on the list of factors because you have little control over it. The year's best showers generally have one night/morning that they are most active. The peak of activity may last for a few hours to many hours, but the exact timing is usually uncertain. Nevertheless, I list the "predicted maximum" time for each shower (based on past observations and the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar) along with conversions to Pacific and Eastern times. If the peak time occurs during your daylight hours (or during the night but before the radiant is high in the sky), pick the productive observing time that is nearest the peak (my "WHEN TO WATCH" gives suggestions).
* Your personal visual perception and experience also factor into how many meteors you see. For best results, make sure your eyes are dark-adapted (don't expose them to any bright or not-so-bright lights for a half-hour or so before you begin observing) and that you are comfortable.
* I get quite a few questions about "where to look". "Where to look'' is usually fairly easy: center your field of view high in the darkest, least-obstructed part of your sky. If you have tall trees or an overpowering city light dome in one direction, you probably should face another direction. You don't have to look right at the shower radiant. Indeed, you'll probably see fewer meteors if you do. But it's also nice and productive to keep the radiant somewhere within the field of view. If there's a bright Moon in the sky, keep it out of your field of view or try to block it with something, like a tree or a car or a chair...
Not all the meteors you will see will belong to the major shower. Sporadic (random) meteors are visible every night of the year. From dark sites, 5 to 15 or more sporadics may be seen each hour. Sporadics are most numerous in the predawn hours, when the Earth is running head-on into a lot of cometary debris. There are also minor showers active at the same time as most major showers. Most of these produce 0 to 2 meteors per hour even at peak activity.
When a meteor appears, make a note of its path against the stars. Hold a long shoestring or cord up against the sky at arm's length along this path. If you extend the meteor's path *backward* along the cord, does it eventually cross or come close to the shower radiant? If so, the meteor was probably a shower member. If not, the meteor was not a shower member. The "radiant charts" show the position of the radiants in the sky, along with some simulated shower meteor paths. The paths are just examples, and they aren't completely accurate due to the projection required to display the apparent dome of the sky on a flat screen, but they should give you some idea of what to look for when you wonder whether a meteor is a member of a particular shower.
Predicted Maximum: January 4, ~3:40 UT (= January 3, 7:40pm PST; = January 3, 10:40pm EST)
Moon: Waxing Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Quadrantids are basically a lunar casualty in 2023. In North America, the bright and nearly full Moon will be up in the sky all night. Eastern Hemisphere observers may have a short “golden hour” on the morning of Wednesday, January 4th as the Moon sets while the sky is still dark. But except for die-hards, this is probably a year to skip the Quadrantids.
The Quadrantids are one of the three strongest annual meteor showers, but are not well-known compared to the Perseids and Geminids. The Quadrantids peak in the dead of winter, and the radiant is far enough north that tropical and southern hemisphere observers don't see much from the shower. The peak is usually rather abrupt, lasting only a few hours. Also, while circumpolar from latitudes north of 40 degrees North, the radiant is poorly placed for most of the night--low in the sky during the evening, and then getting lower and skimming the northern horizon for hours until after midnight. All this means that the shower is often wiped out due to weather and that observed rates often fall short of their potential. I have fond memories of the 2009 Quadrantids, when I hit the maximum under good conditions and saw 133 Quadrantids in an hour. But most years something goes wrong. In 2023, the Quadrantids already have three strikes against them due to the Moon.
Quadrantids are medium-velocity meteors. The shower usually produces quite a few fireballs around the time of maximum activity. The radiant is in a rather blank area surrounded by the constellation figures of Boötes, Hercules, Draco and Ursa Major (see the radiant charts).
Predicted Maximum: April 23, ~1:00 UT (= April 22, 6:00pm PDT; = April 22, 9:00pm EDT)
Moon: Waxing Crescent (minor interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Lyrid radiant gets to a useful elevation around midnight (or a bit earlier from more northerly sites). A good watch would start just before midnight on the late evening of Saturday, April 22nd and continue through morning twilight on Sunday, the 23rd. A second-best option would be the hours before morning twilight on Saturday the 22nd. The timing is not ideal for North America, but the peak of this rather marginal major shower does seem to be a bit variable in timing and strength. The Moon will be out of the way by the time the radiant rises high enough for useful observations.
The Lyrids tend to produce 10-20 meteors per hour at maximum, so they aren't on par with the strongest annual showers. The radiant is between the bright star Vega and the Keystone of Hercules. Lyrids produce fairly fast meteors with a reputation for being faint on average. However, I've seen my share of Lyrid fireballs. Sporadic and minor-shower rates are fairly low at this time of the year, but you should still catch a few meteors per hour that don't trace back to the Lyrid radiant.
Predicted Maximum: May 5/6 (broad)
Moon: Full Moon (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Eta Aquariids are only visible for a short period around the time morning twilight begins. The nominal predicted peak is around Saturday morning, May 6th, but the activity is broad. This is a difficult shower to observe under great conditions, but this year the Full Moon will make a mess of the morning sky even before twilight begins. This is probably a shower to skip this year; otherwise, watch during the last hour before morning twilight and on until the sky gets too bright.
The Eta Aquariids usually have the fourth-strongest maximum among the major annual showers, but are difficult to observe. The radiant doesn't rise until the morning hours, and is still very low when twilight starts to brighten the sky. The situation is better for Southern Hemisphere observers, who may get a few hours of observing time. For northerners, the key is to watch during the last hour or so before twilight gets really bright. In terms of local time this depends on your latitude and also on your longitude with respect to the center of your time zone. Check an almanac or planetarium software. At latitude 42.6 degrees North, I've had my best results from about 3:30-4:30am local daylight time.
The low radiant elevation (in the "head" of Aquarius) means that the earliest ETAs you see will be "earthgrazers": long, relatively slow and often tracing paths along the horizon. Bright earthgrazers are spectacular. Unfortunately, because of their greater distance from the observer, earthgrazers tend to be faint. As the radiant gets a bit higher, the ETAs take on more of their typical appearance: fast meteors, bright on average and often leaving a glowing train. You'll only catch a few of them, though, because dawn is approaching. This shower seems to fluctuate irregularly, and you could easily hit either a spurt or a lull during the all-too-brief observing windows. In better years with no moonlight interference, I expect between 5 and 15 Eta Aquariids per hour from my site.
SOUTHERN DELTA AQUARIIDS
Predicted Maximum: July 30 (broad)
Moon: Waxing Gibbous (moderate to major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The nominal peak for the Southern Delta Aquariids is the morning of Sunday, July 30th. The shower is pretty active for a day or two before and after this date. In 2023, the days before are intriguing as there will be more moon-free time. On Friday, July 28th, the Moon sets at about 1:15am for my location and leaves 3 hours before morning twilight. On Saturday, July 29th, this shrinks to just over 2 hours, and on Sunday, July 30th the dark period is just over an hour. Your local times of moonset and astronomical twilight will vary a bit, but the pattern should hold true throughout mid-northern latitudes. Any of these mornings should be productive during the time the Moon is out of the sky.
The Southern Delta Aquariids are barely a major shower from 40 degrees N; southern observers have a somewhat better view. On a clear, moonless morning a North American observer might see 5-10 South Delta Aquariids each hour along with 15-25 meteors from other sources. Most of this activity, including the Southern Delta Aquariids, is faint on average. You need clear, dark skies to even begin to see a decent number of these meteors. Minor showers active at the time include the Alpha Capricornids (1-2/hour), Anthelion (1-3/hour), Piscis Austrinids (<1/hour), and the early part of the Perseids (~3/hour). Sporadic (random) meteors are also usually pretty prolific. Determining which shower a meteor came from can be a confusing exercise (see the radiant chart), and involves path length and velocity as well as alignment.
Predicted Maximum: August 13
Moon: Waning Crescent (minor crescent)
WHEN TO WATCH: The traditional peak night for the Perseids is late on the evening of Saturday, August 12th and through the dark morning hours of Sunday, August 13th. The Moon will be a very thin waning crescent, and will be up the last hour or so before morning twilight on the 13th, but shouldn’t be much of a bother at all. The weekend timing and lack of moonlight means that this will be a very promising year for a Perseid watch. If it works for you, also try observing on the late evening of Sunday, August 13th and through the dark morning hours of Monday, August 14th. In recent years, the Perseids have shown periods of high activity after their traditional peak.
The Perseids are probably the most-watched annual meteor shower, but often disappoint people who are expecting a show with no effort. I am not sure why some people insist that they were out under good sky conditions for a sufficient amount of time and didn't see anything. Most likely, either the sky conditions weren't that good or the "observers" were distracted or not dark-adapted. In any case, when I've been at star parties for the general public for the Perseids, a good time has been had by most.
The shower has a very long duration, from about July 15th through August 25th, but is most interesting around its peak on August 12th or 13th. In recent years, sometimes the peak rates have come up to a day later than predicted.
Perseids are fast meteors and tend to be fairly bright on average. This combination means that many Perseids will leave a glowing wake or train behind that persists anywhere from a fraction of a second to many seconds. Expect to see a few fireball-class Perseids (magnitude -3 or brighter), especially if you watch for multiple hours. Morning Perseid watches usually feature a good number of sporadic and minor-shower meteors.
Predicted Maximum: October 21/22 (broad and irregular)
Moon: First Quarter (no to minor interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The mornings of Saturday, October 21st and Sunday, October 22nd should be the best opportunities to observe the Orionids near their maximum. Start at around 1am and continue until morning twilight. The First Quarter Moon will set before these prime meteor observing hours
The Orionids are capable of producing interesting activity from October 17th through the 25th. Traditionally, the shower produces maximum ZHRs of about 25, with enhancements to 50 occurring occasionally and irregularly. The shower's activity is unpredictable; often one morning (perhaps even the nominal maximum of October 21st or 22nd) may be dull while another morning during the activity period is very active. I never know what to expect from this shower.
The Orionids are fast meteors, perhaps a bit faint on average but the shower has some larger meteoroids capable of producing fireballs. As with the Eta Aquariids, the Orionids are debris associated with Halley's Comet. Note that the radiant is north of Betelgeuse and not right in the middle of Orion (see the radiant chart). The Orionids are joined by several minor showers (the Taurid complex, the Epsilon Geminids, and the Leonis Minorids) that each typically produce 1-2 meteors per hour. You'll also see at least a few sporadic (random) meteors each hour from dark sites.
Predicted Maximum: November 18
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: For the traditional Leonid maximum, try the morning hours of Saturday, November 18th. The best time for this shower is the last few hours before the beginning of morning twilight. Personally, I wouldn’t start observing earlier than 2am. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention a possible slight enhancement of rates on Tuesday, November 21st, as mentioned in the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar. Many of these predictions over the past few years have failed to produce anything noticeable, but the prediction by Mikhail Maslov is forecast for 12h UT on the 21st, which corresponds to 4am PST, squarely in the ideal observing window for observers on the West Coast of North America.
The Leonids are well-known for the spectacular storms they have produced in the past. Occasional enhancements in rates are possible even in non-storm years, but for the most part we are looking at around 10 Leonids per hour.
The Leonids are very fast meteors, and brighter ones often leave glowing wakes or persistent trains. Sporadic activity is usually pretty high and sometimes even outdoes the Leonids.
Predicted Maximum: December 14, ~19h UT (= 11am PST; = 2pm EST)
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: The Geminids have a long activity period. The most productive times should be the late evening hours of Wednesday, December 13th through the morning hours of Thursday the 14th and then the evening hours of Thursday, December 14th. With the Moon out of the way, this could be a special year if weather conditions are favorable.
The Geminid radiant is up all night for mid-northern latitudes, but is low during the early evening hours and rates will be lower then. I would probably start observing at 9 or 10pm on the evening of the 13th and then keep watching through morning twilight on the 14th as conditions permit, taking breaks as needed. On the morning of the 14th, I would expect high rates, with dark sites approaching the rule-of-thumb of 80 Geminids per hour on the morning of maximum activity.
On the evening of Thursday the 14th, I would start earlier. The Geminids should still be near their maximum rates. Even though you won’t see high rates due to the low radiant elevation, early evening Geminids will be “Earthgrazers” that take long paths and can be quite spectacular. Also, the Geminids have a reputation for producing more bright meteors after their peak, so you might experience “quality over quantity”. As the radiant gets higher in the late evening, rates should increase for a while, perhaps to 40 per hour.
The Geminids are often considered the best annual shower, especially in locales where winters are mild. The peak is broader than the Perseids and much broader than the Quadrantids, so it is easier to catch high rates.
Geminids are medium-speed meteors. Most of them don't leave glowing trains, but the brighter ones are often colored (yellow, green and blue are most common, and I usually see some fireballs with a violet tinge). The Geminids seem to produce quite a few fireballs, especially during and just after the peak. Pre-peak Geminids are fainter on average. Quite a few sporadic and minor-shower meteors (including the fast Sigma Hydrids) join the show from dark sites. The Geminids can be enjoyed by observers in the Southern Hemisphere as well, although the radiant elevation is lower and the nights are shorter.
Predicted Maximum: December 22
Moon: Waxing Gibbous (moderate to major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: If you're up for a challenge, consider watching for Ursids on the morning of Friday, December 22nd. The Moon will be up for most of the night, but will set at least a couple of hours before morning twilight for most observers. And that’s when you want to watch. A possible enhancement of rates around 14:29UT (6:29am PST) on the 22nd is listed in the IMO calendar, although a similar prediction for 2022 didn’t appear to pan out.
The Ursids often appear on major shower lists and supposedly have a maximum of 10 meteors per hour, but I'm not sure they belong there on a regular basis. So this is an event for die-hards and shower collectors. I've only had a couple of successful Ursid observations, in 2004 and 2006. The shower seems to have a short peak with activity nearly nonexistent other than on one night/morning each year. Ursids are Geminid-speed meteors with a reputation for being faint.
Other Sources of Meteor Activity
The major showers listed here are fairly reliable and occur every year. However, meteor activity is visible on any clear night. Random sporadic meteors, minor showers, and major showers near the beginning or end of their activity period all contribute to this "background". For the Northern Hemisphere, there is a general pattern of lower rates during the first half of the year and higher rates during the second half, but rates vary greatly from hour to hour, day to day, and observer to observer. Occasionally, unexpected high activity occurs. It is up to the observer to objectively describe what was seen. In many cases, high activity may be ascribed to randomness. Rarely, many of the meteors seen may be members of a periodic or previously unknown shower.
Other Meteor Shower Info.
General shower attributes and predicted times of maximum are adapted from personal data and also from the International Meteor Organization's 2023 Meteor Shower Calendar. Data at https://www.imo.net/members/imo_live_shower was also examined. Radiant charts were produced using maps from the free Cartes du Ciel application. All on-site text and contents are Copyright 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 by Wes Stone and may be reproduced for not-for-profit use so long as credit is given.