Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022
how to watch the peak and other key UK dates


Many of us have marked our calendars for December 13 and 14 in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Geminid meteor shower as it reaches its peak.

The shower occurs when the Geminids’ orbit brings the 3200 Phaethon asteroid close to the Sun, and, its surface material fractures and breaks away. As the Earth passes through this debris every mid-December, they burn up in our atmosphere. This creates the meteors which are visible in our sky. 

The shower, which will occur from December 4 to 17 in its entirety, always appears from the Gemini constellation, hence its name.

The good news for space enthusiasts across the UK is that the shower favours observers in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning you are likely to catch as many as 120 meteors an hour during its peak. They also vary in colour, which makes this one of the most beautiful showers across the calendar. 

But don’t worry if you miss out on seeing the Geminids, as there are plenty of other opportunities to see the sky full of streaks of light.

Here, we have compiled a complete guide on when, where and how you can see the other meteor showers of 2021 as well as 2022.

What exactly is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the debris stream occupying the orbit of a comet or, in simpler terms, when a number of meteors flash across the sky from roughly the same point.

Meteors are sometimes called shooting stars, although they actually have nothing to do with stars.

Perspective makes meteor showers appear to emanate from a single point in the sky known as the shower radiant. The typical meteor results from a particle – the size of a grain of sand – vaporising in Earth’s atmosphere when it enters at 134,000mph.

Anything larger than a grape will produce a fireball, which is often accompanied by a persistent afterglow known as a meteor train. This is a column of ionised gas slowly fading from view as it loses energy.

Meteor, meteoroid or meteorite?

A meteor is a meteoroid – or a particle broken off an asteroid or comet orbiting the Sun – that burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, creating a “shooting star”.

Meteoroids that reach the Earth’s surface without disintegrating are called meteorites.

Meteors are mostly pieces of comet dust and ice no larger than a grain of rice. Meteorites are principally rocks broken off asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and weigh as much as 60 tonnes.

They can be “stony”, made up of minerals rich in silicon and oxygen, “iron”, consisting mainly of iron and nickel, or “stony-iron”, a combination of the two.

Scientists think about 1,000 tons to more than 10,000 tons of material from meteors falls on Earth each day, but it’s mostly dust-like grains, according to NASA, and they pose no threat to Earth.

There are only two recorded incidents of an injury caused by a meteorite. One of these instances saw a woman bruised by a meteorite, weighing eight pounds, after it fell through her roof in 1954. 

Other meteor shower dates for 2021

Ursid meteor shower

While the Ursids may be the last of the annual meteor showers, it is by no means least. Yes, the shower is typically sparse in meteors; however, the Moon is in its first-quarter phase at this time of the year, and so, you won’t have to worry that its light will tint your view of the meteors.

The Ursids meteors stem from a stream of debris from the 8P/Tuttle comet, despite looking as though they come from near the Beta Ursae Minoris – the brightest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper asterism – in the Ursa Minor constellation.

In the same style as previous years, the Ursids will peak between December 22 and 23 in 2021, anytime between midnight and dawn.

Meteor showers in 2022

Quadrantid meteor shower

The Quadrantid is the first significant meteor shower of the year. It is also one of the most unusual, as it is likely the Quadrantid meteor shower originated from an asteroid.

The meteor shower was first spotted by the Italian astronomer Antonio Brucalassi in 1825, and astronomers suspect the shower originates from the comet C/1490 Y1, which was first observed 500 years ago by Japanese, Chinese and Korean astronomers.

Set to peak late at night on January 3 until dawn on January 4 in 2022, it is known for its “bright fireball meteors”, which is, according to NASA, among the best annual meteor showers.

The Quadrantids appear to radiate from the extinct constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is now part of the Boötes constellation and not far from the Big Dipper.

Because of the constellation’s position in the sky, the shower is often impossible to see in the Southern Hemisphere. However, there is a chance of spotting it up to 51 degrees south latitude.

The best spots to see the display are in countries with high northern latitudes, like Norway, Sweden, Canada and Finland.

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