Periodically throughout the year, different meteor showers come around for a few nights to light up the sky and give us the best light show the natural world has to offer. They’re easy to miss, however, if you don’t know when they are happening and where you need to go to see them.
We’ve done the research for you so that you can spend more time staring at the beauty of the meteor showers and less time staring at the screen of your laptop.
2020 Meteor Shower Schedule
There are four different classes of meteor showers (2):
- Major (Class I)
- Minor (Class II)
- Variable (Class III)
- Weak (Class IV)
The major class of meteor showers is the most impressive one and the most accessible for the general public. As you go down into the lower classes they become harder to see without specialized equipment and know-how. (2)
Major Meteor Showers
- You are waiting until after midnight to start watching
- You are in an area that doesn’t have much light pollution (for example, at a cottage or in the countryside as opposed to a town or city)
- There is not too much moonlight – if there is a full moon, it will be very difficult to see the meteors.
- Allow your eyes time to adjust to the night’s sky: no lights, and very importantly no screens. Looking at your cell phone will ruin your night vision and you will have trouble seeing the shower.
While each meteor shower will be visible on roughly the same dates every year, their actual visibility will vary depending on the lunar cycle, which will be different every year. If the moon is too bright it will be very hard to see. Cloud cover will also affect visibility: if it is a cloudy night you won’t be able to see the meteors. (1, 2, 3, 4)
How to Read to the 2020 Meteor Shower Calendar
Before we get to the 2020 calendar, it’s best to go over these terms so that you understand the terminology being used. These explanations will make it simple for you to navigate this schedule with ease.
- Shower: The meteor shower is named for the constellation it belongs to or the closest star with maximum activity. (2)
- Activity Period: These are the dates that you can expect to see the shower. (2)
- S.L. (Solar Longitude): This is the date of maximum activity. (2)
- Radiant: The area of the sky where the shower is likely to appear. The radiant must be near or above the horizon in order for the shower to be viewable. (2)
- ZHR: Zenith Hourly Rate is the average number of shower meteors visible per hour, provided the radiant is exactly overhead and there is a very dark sky. (2)
- Time: This is the time of night when you can best view the shower. (2)
- Moon: Showers happening when the moon is less than 10 days old will be more visible than older moons. (2)
Meteor Shower Schedule 2020
Without further ado, the 2020 Meteor Shower calendar. While some of these have already occurred, there are still plenty more to enjoy. Each meteor shower shows up roughly around the same time each year, with the main difference being which nights they are at their peak. (1)
The Lyrid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: April 21-22
- ZHR: 10 meteors per hour
- Moon: thin crescent, two days before a new moon (less moonlight).
- Time: 10:30 pm local time
- Radiant: between constellations Lyra and Hercules
The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: May 4 and 5
- ZHR: 20 to 40 meteors per hour
- Moon: waxing gibbous phase, approaching full moon. Earth’s natural satellite, however, will set before dawn so it won’t affect viewing.
- Time: Pre-dawn
- Radiant: Aquarius constellation, best viewed near the equator and the southern hemisphere
The Perseid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: August 11 and 12
- ZHR: 60 to 75 meteors per hour
- Moon: last quarter phase, may impede viewing.
- Time: Early morning, a couple of hours before dawn.
- Radiant: Constellation Perseus
The Orionid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: October 20 and 21
- ZHR: 10 to 20 meteors per hour
- Moon: 23% full crescent phase, no interference.
- Time: midnight local time
- Radiant: constellation Orion
The Leonid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: November 16 and 17
- ZHR: 5 to 15 meteors per hour
- Moon: thin crescent, little interference
- Time: after midnight
- Radiant: constellation Leo
The Geminid Meteor Shower
- S.L.: December 13 and 14
- ZHR: over 100 meteors per hour
- Moon: one day before the new moon (best time for viewing)
- Time: 2 am local time
- Radiant: constellation Gemini
Minor, Variable, and Weak Meteor Showers
Experienced observers will be able to spot minor meteor showers, however, for the casual enthusiast, this will be very difficult. Variable and weak can really only be seen and tracked by scientists and those with specialized equipment. (2)
Slightly Different from Year to Year
Meteor showers will always happen around the same dates every year, but they won’t necessarily be exact and the best nights for viewing them may be different by a day or two. The size and strength of the meteor showers can change over time, and some of them aren’t very big every year. (1, 2, 3, 4)
For example, back in the early 1800s, the Geminid meteor shower was quite a bit smaller, with only about 30 meteors per hour on average. Now it’s over 100. (1)
The Leonid meteor shower was highly impressive in 1966, 1999, and 2001, with the next really big Leonid show set to be 2031. This is because, in those years, the Leonid comet was/will be making its closest approach to the sun. (1)
Mother Nature’s Light Show
There’s no doubt about it – meteor showers are incredible to watch. If you know what to do and how to properly view them, you will be in for one of the most impressive shows nature has to offer.
So head out to the quiet countryside, set your alarms appropriately, turn off the lights, leave your phone inside, and relax and enjoy the view.