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Autumn is meteor shower season across the Northern Hemisphere with the season’s longer nights benefiting those trying to spot a few shooting stars.
The upcoming months feature many minor to moderate meteor showers, but concludes with the Geminids, which features hundreds of multi-colored meteors every night.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a trail of debris left behind by a comet. The debris is largely just grains of dust that burn brightly when entering the planet’s atmosphere.
Here are the top five meteor showers to look for this fall:
1. Draconids: 5-10 meteors/hour
Peak night: Oct. 8-9
The first meteor shower of the season peaks during the first half of October, and while it isn’t considered a major shower, it’s a good one for early-night stargazers.
Most meteor showers are best viewed after midnight; however, the Draconids is one of the few meteor showers that is best during the evening. This is a good shower for younger stargazers, especially since the shower peaks on a school night.
This year will be an excellent year for viewing the Draconids as it peaks right before the new moon, meaning there will be minimal natural light pollution, allowing the dimmer meteors to be seen.
2. Orionids — 20 meteors/hour
Peak night: Oct. 21-22
The Orionid meteor shower is typically one of the best meteor showers of the season and is made up of debris from the famous Halley’s Comet.
“In a normal year, the Orionids produce 20-25 shower members at maximum,” the American Meteor Society (AMS) said.
In 2018, the shower peaks a few days before the full moon. This means that the light from the nearly full moon will make it difficult to spot many of the dimmer meteors.
The best opportunity to view the shower will be a small window between moonset, around 4 a.m. local time, and when the morning twilight begins.
3. Northern Taurids — 5 meteors/hour
Peak night: Nov. 11-12
Although the Northern Taurids meteor shower may be overlooked since it only brings around five meteors an hour, it can bring some spectacular fireballs that light up the entire sky.
People heading out to view the Taurids will need to bring some patience as there may be long gaps in between meteors, but this meteor shower is known for featuring a high number of fireballs. Fireballs are incredibly bright meteors that glow for several seconds.
The Northern Taurids also overlaps with another meteor shower, the Southern Taurids, which can bring a few extra shooting stars to the sky for onlookers.
4. Leonids — 10-20 meteors/hour
Peak night: Nov. 17-18
People spending some time outside the weekend before Thanksgiving should take a look at the night sky as the Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak.
The moon may hinder early-night observers, but dimmer meteors will become visible after 2 a.m. local time once the moon sets.
“This shower has turned into a raging meteor storm in the past. In fact, the Leonids have produced the most impressive shows in recorded history,“ AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said.
However, a meteor storm is not expected this year. Meteor storms from the Leonids typically occur every 33 years, with the most recent being in 2001.
“[In 2001] I observed what seemed to be several meteors at once in the sky all night long, but the 2001 show pales in comparison to 1966 and 1833,” Samuhel said.
5. Geminids — 120+ meteors/hour
Peak night: Dec. 13-14
Autumn draws to a close with one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the entire year.
The Geminids boasts an impressive 120 meteors an hour, but can occasionally exceed this. In 2017, observers documented as many as 160 meteors an hour at its peak.
Not only are the Geminids known for its impressive numbers, but also the colors.
“The Geminids are often bright and intensely colored,” the AMS said.
Meteors will begin to streak across the sky shortly after nightfall and will gradually increase in intensity as the night progresses, reaching the peak after 2 a.m. local time.
People planning to stay up late to view the year’s most popular meteor shower may have to bundle up as chilly winter weather typically settles in across much of the United States by mid-December.
Enduring a cold night under the stars may be worth it for some observers as the Geminids will be one of the last meteor showers until late April.
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