As Earth zips along its orbit, it slides through the dusty trails of asteroids and comets. These are what we’ve come to know as meteor showers. There are nine main meteor showers that can be witnessed around the world throughout the year and are named after the constellations across which they streak.
Meteoroids, which burn up in the atmosphere, can be as small as a dust grain or as large as a small asteroid. Once they hit Earth’s surface, they’re called meteorites. On most nights, astronomy buffs will witness a handful of meteors, but during a meteor shower there could be as many as 140 meteors visible per hour.
The Next Meteor Shower: The Quadrantids
January is marked by the Quadrantids meteor showers, which are active from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 but peak during the late evening and early hours of Jan. 3-4. Viewers in the Northern hemisphere (and as far south as 51 degrees south) can expect to see, at peak, around 80 meteors in the sky.
The Quadrantids are unique for a few reasons. While many meteor showers have a peak that lasts several days, the Quadrantids’ peak only lasts a few hours because the stream of dust that supplies it is so short, according to NASA. This meteor shower also brings brighter meteors. This is because the particles that pass through the atmosphere during this shower are larger.
Additionally, the dust trails that cause many of these meteor showers are fed by comets. The Quandrantids, on the other hand, along with the Geminids, are fed by especially leaky asteroids. The asteroid 2003 EH1, which feeds the Quadrantids, was discovered in 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search and was identified as the source of the meteor shower by Peter Jenniskens, according to NASA.
Where Do Meteor Showers Come From?
As comets and asteroids approach the sun, ice melts and they begin to shed dust and rock. Asteroids, however, stop shedding material as the sail away from the sun. In December 2019, astronomers revealed at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California, that another famed meteor shower, the Geminids, are also sourced by an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon.
All meteor showers seem to originate from one region in the sky. This is usually the constellation they are named after. For example, the Perseids originate in the constellation Perseus and the Orionids originate in the constellation Orion. The Quadrantids, are named for an obsolete constellation no longer officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union called “Quadrans Muralis.”
When Are All the Other Meteor Showers?
Active: Dec. 27 – Jan. 10
Peak: Jan. 3-4
Active: April 16 – April 28
Peak: April 21-22
Active: April 19 – May 28
Peak: May 6-7
Southern delta Aquariids
Active: July 12 – Aug. 23
Peak: July 29-30
Active: July 17 – Aug. 26
Peak: Aug. 11-12
Active: Oct. 2 – Nov. 7
Peak: Oct. 21-22
Active: Nov. 6 – Nov. 30
Peak: Nov. 16-17
Active: Dec. 4 – Dec. 17
Peak: Dec. 13-14
Active: Dec. 17 – Dec. 26
Peak: Dec. 22-23