The 2018 Geminids meteor shower was recorded for two very cold hours on the slopes of Mount Lütispitz, Switzerland. (Flickr / Lukas Schlagenhauf)
The year begins with an explosion with Quadrantids, the first of three large annual meteor showers. Active when the Moon is still new, this gives observers the northern hemisphere to enjoy during cold winter nights. Sad, the shower is not visible from the southern sky.
The other two members of the top three – Perseid and Geminid – were not so lucky this year, with moonlight set to disrupt and reduce their spectacle.
So, with that in mind, where and when should you observe the best of the 2019 meteoric offer? Here we present the anticipated highlights for this year – the shower will most likely feature a good show.
Things to remember
We provide detailed activity period estimates for each shower, and maximum estimated time. We also provide a sky chart, showing you where it is best to see, and providing a theoretical peak level that can be seen under ideal observation conditions – a number known as the Zenithal Hourly Rate, or ZHR.
It is important to note that ZHR is the maximum theoretical meteor you expect to see per hour for a particular bath, unless it surprises us with an unexpected explosion!
In fact, the rate you observe will be lower than ZHR – but the clearer and darker your sky is, and the higher the shower beam in the sky, the closer you are to this ideal value.
For each shower, to see the best price, it's good to try to find a good dark site (the darker the better) – away from street lights and other illuminations.
Once you are outside, give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the dark – half an hour should work.
Rain that can only be truly seen from one hemisphere or the other is represented properly [N] or [S], while those that can be seen globally are marked as [N/S].
You can download this ICS file and add it to your calendar to keep informed when meteor showers are due.
Active: December 28 to January 12
Maximum: January 4, 2:20 AM UT (2:20 AM GMT; 3:20 AM CET)
ZHR: 120 (variable, can reach ~ 200)
Parent: Complicated (comet 96P / Macholz and asteroid 2003 EH1)
Despite being one of the three most active annual rains this year, Quadrantid is often overlooked and underrated. This is probably the result of their peak decline during the northern hemisphere's winter depth, when weather is often less than ideal for meteor observation.
For most of the two weeks they are active, the Quadrantid rate is very low (less than five per hour). The peak itself is very short and sharp, far more than the big rain of other years. As a result, tariffs exceeding a quarter of the maximum ZHR for a period of only eight hours, centered on peak times.
Quadrantid radiation is located in the northern constellation of Boötes, the Shepherd, and is a circumpolar (never set) for observers who are below 40 degrees north. As a result, observers in northern Europe and Canada can see Quadrantid at night. The highest radiation in the sky (and the best rate) in the hours after midnight.
For this reason, the peak of this year (at 2:20 AM UT) is best suited for observers in northern Europe – and given that the peak level can exceed 100 per hour, it is certainly necessary to set an alarm for, to wake up in the early hours of cold , and watching the spectacle opens.
(Provided: NASA / MSFC / Meteoroid Environmental Office / Danielle Moser and Bill Cooke)
Alpha Centaurids [S]
Active: January 31 to February 20
Maximum: February 8, 1:00 PM UT (WA: February 8, 9:00; QLD: February 8, 11 pm; NSW / ACT / Vic / Bag: February 9, 12 am)
ZHR: Variables; usually 6, but can exceed 25
Alpha Centaurids are small meteor showers, which produce a rate of only a few meteors per hour. But they are well-known as spectacular sources of fireballs for observers of the southern hemisphere and therefore deserve to be watched in the southern summer sky.
Alpha Centaurids are fast, often bright meteors. Like most of the rain that is only seen from the southern hemisphere, they are still less studied. Although it usually produces low levels, several explosions have occurred where the rate reaches or exceeds 25 per hour.
Alpha Centaurids are well placed for the southern hemisphere. This view from Brisbane around the time of maximum activity.
(Provided: Victoria / Stellarium Museum)
The sunshine is located close to the bright star Alpha Centauri – the star with the naked eye closest to the Solar System and the third brightest star in the night sky.
Alpha Centauri is only 30 degrees from the pole of the southern sky. As a result, the basic beam was never set for observers throughout Australia. The best numbers will be seen from the night before and so on, when the sun rises higher into the southern sky.
This year, the Alpha Centaurids peak coincides with the New Moon, making it an ideal time to look at this interesting little shower.
Eta Aquariids [S preferred]
Active: April 19 to May 28
Maximum: May 6, 2pm UT (WA: May 6, 10 nights; QLD / NSW / ACT / Vic / Bags May 7, 12 am)
Parent: Comet 1P / Halley
Eta Aquariid is probably the most neglected treat this year, especially for observers in the southern hemisphere. The first of the two annual rains produced by comet 1P / Halley, Eta Aquariids produces excellent prices for the entire week around its peak.
Radiation rises in the early hours of the morning, after an estimated maximum time, and the best price is seen right when the sky starts bright with the dawn of light. It is worth to go up early to observe them, because rates can go up as high as 40 to 50 meteors an hour before the clear sky cuts off the display.
Eta Meteor Aquariid is fast and often bright, and showers regularly reward those who are willing to get up early. Spectacular Earth grazing meteors that tear from one side of the sky to the other can be seen shortly after the beam rises above the horizon.
This year, the conditions are ideal for watching showers, with New Moon falling on May 4, just two days before the maximum estimate. As a result, the entire week around the peak will be suitable for morning observation sessions, giving many observers the opportunity to see the fall of the most famous small comet fragments.
Southern Delta Aquariids, Piscis Austrinids and Alpha Capricornids [N/S; S favoured]
Active: Early July to mid-August
Maximum: 28 to 30 July
Combined ZHR: 35
Parent: Comet 96P / Macholz (South Delta Aquariids); Unknown (Piscis Austrinids); Comet 169P / NEAT (Alpha Capricornids)
In most of the year, the August approach was heralded by sharp meteor observers when building the Perseids – the second of three major rains this year. This year, the moonlight will disturb, spoil them for most observers.
But this cloud comes with a silver lining. About two weeks before the peak of Perseid, three relatively small rains came together to provide a mid-winter performance that was very good for observers of the southern hemisphere. This year, the Moon is perfectly placed to enable their observation.
These three rains – the Southern Delta Aquariids, Alpha Capricornids, and Pisces Austrinids – are favored by observers in the southern hemisphere, although they can also be observed from northern latitudes.
Regardless of your location, the best price for this bath is seen after midnight. A reasonable number began to be seen for observers of the southern hemisphere at 10 pm local time.
The Southern Delta Aquariids are the most active of the three, producing up to 25 meteors that are fast and brilliant per hour at their peak, which includes five days centered on 30 July.
Alpha Capricornids, on the other hand, produce lower levels usually only contribute five meteors per hour. But where the Delta Aquariid Delta is fast, Alpha Capricornids are meteors that are very slow and often spectacular.
Like Alpha Centaurids, in February, they had a reputation for producing large spectacular fireballs. This tendency to produce very bright and slow moving meteors makes them an excellent target for astrophotographers, as well as naked eye observers.
Active: September 10 to December 10
Maxima: October 10 (Taurid South); November 13 (Northern Taurids)
ZHR: 5 + 5
Parent: Comet 2P / Encke
The Taurids are perhaps the most interesting of all the annual meteor showers. Although they only provide relatively low levels (around five per hour from each of the two streams, north and south), they do so in a very long period – three months full of activities.
In other words, Earth spends a quarter of a year passing through the Taurid stream. In fact, we crossed the river again in June, when the meteor from the bathroom was lost because it was exclusively seen during the day.
So one third of our planet's orbit is spent plowing through extensive debris, known as the Taurid flow. In total, the Taurid stream stores more mass of meteoric material into our planet's atmosphere than any other combination of annual meteor showers.
So vast is the Taurid flow that there is speculation that it comes from the massive disintegration of super-sized comets, thousands or tens of thousands of years in the past, and that the current rain is a legacy of that ancient event.
Taurid meteors are slow, and often very bright. Like Alpha Capricornids, they have a reputation for producing ordinary fireballs, making it a good target for budding astrophotographers.
Instead of having one sharp peak, Taurid activity remains at, or close to, the peak level for the best part of the month, between the maximum north and south flows, which means that it is always possible to find the time when moonlight is not disturbing to observe the bathroom.
Active: December 4 to December 17
Maximum: December 14, 6:40 pm UT (QLD: December 15, 4:40 am; NSW / ACT / Vic / Bag: December 15, 5:40 am)
Parent: Asteroid 3200 Phaethon
Other than the three big annual meteor showers, Geminid is probably the best, with peak levels in recent years exceeding 140 meteors per hour.
The Geminids are seen from both hemispheres – although radiation rises earlier for northern observers. Even in southern Australia, the beam rises long before midnight, giving all observers the rest of the night to enjoy the spectacle.
The moonlight will seriously disrupt the bathing peak this year, clearing dim meteors, with the result that the observed level will be lower than what the ZHR might suggest.
But showers regularly produce bright meteors abundant, and produce high levels so that they are still worth trying, even through full moon light.
Active: December 17 for December 26
Maximum: December 23, 3:00 AM UT
Parent: Comet 8P / Cut
Rain later this year – Ursid – is a treat for observers of the northern hemisphere. Just like taking a shower starting our year-round trip, Quadrantids, the Ursids remain unattended, often lost by gloomy mid-winter weather that infects many northern latitudes.
But if the sky is clear, Ursid is seen throughout the night, because the beam is only 12 degrees from the north celestial pole. Therefore, they make a target that is tempting for observers to check out at night, even if the radiation is at its highest point in the morning.
Most of the year, Ursid is a relatively small shower, with peak levels rarely exceeding ten meteors per hour. They have made a number of surprises over the past century, with occasional explosions of meteors that are fast enough to produce levels up to, and more than, a hundred meteors per hour.
Although there was no such explosion predicted for 2019, Ursids has proven to be a shower with a surprise or two left to display and might prove to be an interesting way to end the meteoric year.
Jonti Horner is professor of astrophysics at the University of South Queensland and Tanya Hill is an honorary member of the University of Melbourne and a senior curator (Astronomy) at the Victoria Museum. This section first appeared in The Conversation.