Major Meteor Showers in 2024
|A bright Geminid from the evening of December 14, 2023
This is still in DRAFT status. Check back soon if links or formatting are wonky. -WS
It seems that fewer amateur astronomers are actively watching meteors/meteor showers these days. Meanwhile, there is still a lot of public interest, some from folks in rural areas who have a longstanding but casual relationship to the night sky and like to watch the Perseids or Geminids, and some from people who have never seen a meteor shower before but have seen something about an upcoming meteor shower in their news feed.
My aim with this meteor shower outlook each year is to pinpoint the best times (if any) to watch the major meteor showers, and also to provide pointers about what to look for and how to increase the number of meteors you see and hopefully the satisfaction you receive from being out under the stars watching for meteors.
Let’s face it: Just about every article with a headline tends toward unrealistic hype, light pollution is rampant, and the distraction of mobile devices is omnipresent. It is difficult or impossible for any celestial event to be “impressive” under such conditions. And most meteor showers tend toward the subtle side. You’ll probably see more fireballs* over the year when driving, looking out the window, or (hopefully) out with a telescope or binoculars than you will during dedicated meteor watches. Meteor showers are more about numbers, but don’t expect anything like “hyperspace”. If you see 30 meteors in an hour, they won’t come like clockwork every two minutes. More likely, there will be a long period of nothing, then a clump of a few, then more waiting, then one here and one there, and a few right together.
Meteor watching is a different sort of activity, both passive and active. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re going to watch, approach it with the mindset that that’s what you’re doing for the next hour or two. Bundle up in what it takes to get comfortable, find a good spot, and open your eyes to the sky!
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. If applicable, 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. Note: This year, to save time, I've omitted radiant charts for showers that I recommend skipping. The meteor 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.
WHEN TO WATCH: If you watch the Quadrantids during the more productive morning hours, you’ll have to deal with a sky brightened by the Moon. The best bet is to use a car, tree, or building to block the Moon. It will also help if your observing site has clean, dry air conditions so that you get less scattered light from the Moon. For mid-northern latitudes, you want to watch between about 2am and 6am local standard time on Thursday, January 4th. This is the time when the radiant will be highest and you should see the most meteors. From a good site, I would expect to see anywhere from 10 to 25 Quadrantids per hour.
There are a couple of alternative times, especially for observers who are farther north. These avoid the Moon, but the radiant will be lower. First, you can go out on the evening of Wednesday, January 3rd after the sky gets dark. The Quadrantid radiant will be low on the northern horizon, but you may see an occasional long earthgrazer. These meteors can be impressive, but they are few and far between. From my latitude of 42N, I would probably be happy to see 2 or 3. From northern-tier US states, 5-10 might be realistic. For a similar experience, you could also go out between midnight and moonrise on the 4th. Most locations will have a short window of darkness.
ABOUT 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 (who would get better weather) don't see much from the shower. The peak is usually rather abrupt, lasting only a few hours. The timing also seems to vary unpredictably, so while that 9:00UT timing seems good for East Coast US observers, the actual peak could come early or late enough to lead to low rates. 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. So: watch during the morning hours, don’t expect much, and you could be pleasantly surprised.
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 chart).
WHEN TO WATCH: Unfortunately, the Lyrids are a lunar casualty this year. The bright Moon will be up all night, and the shower typically isn’t all that strong. Maybe you could see 2-3 Lyrids per hour on the morning of the 22nd, but it won’t be a very fun experience.
ABOUT THE LYRIDS: The Lyrids tend to produce 10-15 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.
WHEN TO WATCH: The Eta Aquariids are only visible for a short period around the time morning twilight begins. The nominal predicted peak is on May 5th, but the activity is broad and sometimes about equal for several days in a row. The Moon will be a waning crescent and will be a big problem on May 2nd, but less and less each morning thereafter. The weekend mornings of Saturday, May 4th and Sunday, May 5th should be good bets. Look up the time of when astronomical morning twilight begins on those mornings at your location, and plan on watching from about an hour before that time to 15-20 minutes after that time. (You’ll figure out when to end the watch, because the sky will be getting too bright.) From my latitude of 42N, I’d expect to see 5-10 Eta Aquariids. From southern-tier US states, you might get 15-20.
ABOUT THE ETA AQUARIIDS: 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. Personally, 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. (The Eta Aquariids should look similar to the Orionids of October - they are both associated with debris from Halley’s Comet.) 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.
SOUTHERN DELTA AQUARIIDS
WHEN TO WATCH: The peak of the Southern Delta Aquariids is not well defined, and is usually broad and plateau-like. The IMO Meteor Shower Calendar says July 31, but at least in some years the peak is earlier. The rub this year is a waning crescent Moon, which will share the morning sky with the radiant. By the time the radiant is at a decent elevation, the Moon will be up. But the Moon is getting fainter and rising later each morning, so it will be less of a problem later in the activity period. If I had to pick a couple of dates, I would go with the mornings of Wednesday, July 31st and Thursday, August 1st, during the last 2-3 hours before astronomical twilight at your location.
Block the Moon when it’s up, and face in a different direction. On July 30th, the Moon is 25% illuminated, and by August 1st it is less than 10% illuminated. If you follow the shower after August 1st, you will likely see fewer Southern Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids, but more Perseids.
ABOUT THE SOUTHERN DELTA AQUARIIDS: 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 fairly 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.
WHEN TO WATCH: This is a leap year, so the traditional peak of the Perseids shifts to August 12th on the calendar. In general, you should watch during the morning of Monday, August 12th, from midnight through the beginning of morning twilight. From a good, dark location, I expect peak Perseid rates of 60-80 per hour on this morning, with the possibility of more. The morning of Tuesday, August 13th should also be worth covering.
Sometimes the peak has arrived late. Perseids in the days before the peak have been rather disappointing recently, but the Moon does set earlier if you decide to watch on Friday night/Saturday morning or Saturday night/Sunday morning. From mid-northern latitudes, the Perseid radiant is up (but low) at the end of twilight, and casual watchers often see a smattering of Perseids between twilight and midnight. This year, the Moon will cut into those numbers.
ABOUT THE PERSEIDS: 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. This year, the Perseids have much better moonlight circumstances than the Geminids.
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. This year, there is the possibility of slightly enhanced activity on the 12th due to the Earth crossing some old debris trails from the Perseids’ parent comet, so that serves as a hedge.
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.
WHEN TO WATCH: It’s difficult to imagine worse circumstances than this year for observing the Orionids. The Moon is full at the beginning of the peak activity period, and then wanes into the morning sky near the radiant when the shower is at its maximum. This is a washout; wait until 2025.
ABOUT THE ORIONIDS: The Orionids are capable of producing interesting activity from October 17th through the 25th. 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.
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
WHEN TO WATCH: A nearly full Moon will share the morning sky with the Leonid radiant and essentially wipe out the shower this year. Skip it.
ABOUT THE LEONIDS: 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 under dark-sky conditions, and we won’t even get that this year.
The Leonids are very fast meteors, and brighter ones often leave glowing wakes or persistent trains.
WHEN TO WATCH: The Moon is nearly full for the Geminids as well. The shower is active enough, and the fall meteor shower pickings this year are slim enough, that I won’t tell you to skip the Geminids. Just be aware that the Moon is going to cause major problems and dramatically reduce the number of meteors you see. One of the better times to watch may be the morning hours of Friday, December 13th. Equatorial locations get a brief window between moonset and morning twilight. For the rest of us, the Moon will be rather low in the west for the last couple of hours before twilight. Block the Moon behind something, and center your view in a darker part of the sky.
Most observers will get a break from the Moon during the last hour before morning twilight on Thursday, December 12th. The Geminid ZHR should be lower then, but the dark skies are likely to yield actual visual rates of 20-40 Geminids plus a good number of sporadic and minor-shower meteors, probably a better display overall than the moon-soaked “peak”. Friday evening, December 13th into the morning of Saturday the 14th would also be a good time to look, but the Moon will be obnoxious and difficult to block. There should be some bright Geminids that cut through.
ABOUT THE GEMINIDS: 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. (In 2023, I saw more fireballs before the peak than during and after, so samples may vary.) 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.
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 report what was seen. Radar, radio scatter, all-sky fireball camera networks, and video meteor monitoring networks are important methods for monitoring meteor activity, including activity that is not well-suited to visual observing (minor showers, faint meteors, daylight meteor showers, etc.).
Other Meteor Shower Info.
Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (recent meteor radiants as determined by radar)
NASA CAMS Meteor Shower Portal (recent meteor radiants as determined by video networks)
Clear Sky Charts (very useful for short-term forecasts)
General shower attributes and predicted times of maximum are adapted from personal data and also from the International Meteor Organization's 2024 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 2020-2024 by Wes Stone and may be reproduced for not-for-profit use so long as credit is given.