Our ultimate guide to Australia’s best meteor showers for the rest of the year

By Holly Cormack | May 16, 2019

All you need to know about shooting stars in the southern hemisphere.

Lyrids

Period: 16th – 25th of April

Peak: 22nd or 23rd of April

We open the year with the Lyrids meteor shower, a somewhat modest but remarkably ancient meteor shower. Some Ancient Chinese records of this spectacle date as far back as 687 BC, where the mid-Autumn stars were described as falling like rain.

At its peak, you can usually only expect to see around 10-20 meteors per hour – however, the Lyrids are notorious for fireballs, which are essentially very bright meteors. Lyrid meteors are debris from the comet Thatcher – an infrequent visitor that only visits earth every 415 years. We last saw Thatcher in 1861, and cannot expect to see it again until 2276.

If you trace the path of the Lyrid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra, near the brilliant blue star Vega. The Lyra represents the lye of Orpheus – a musical harp-like instrument in Greek Mythology.

Eta Aquarids

Period: 19th of April – 28th of May

Peak: 6th or 7th of May

A crowd favourite, Eta Aquarid meteors are renowned for their speed – hurtling into earth’s atmosphere at an impressive 66km/s. Due to their rapid entry, these hunks of extraterrestrial rubble leave glowing green ‘trains’ behind them, which can linger in the sky for several seconds.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs when the earth passes though a field of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet hundreds of years ago. Halley’s Comet – named for its discoverer, Edmund Halley – takes around 76 years to orbit the Sun, and will be visible once again in the year 2061.

The radiant of the Eta Aquaids lies in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. The shower itself gets its name from the brightest star in this constellation – Eta Aquarii.

Delta Aquarids

Period: 12th of July – 23rd of August

Peak: late July

Like the Eta Aquarids, the Delta Aquarids emerge from the direction of Aquarius, the ‎water bearer. This meteor shower, however, derives its name from Delta, the third brightest star in the constellation.

While the source of Delta Aquarid meteors is uncertain, it is suspected to originate from the comet Machholz, which orbits the sun every five years.

Orionids

Period: 2nd of October – 7th of November

Peak: 21st or 22nd of October

The Orionid meteor shower is the second meteor shower created by Halley’s Comet. Named after the constellation Orion, the legendary hunter of Greek mythology, this meteor shower is considered to be one of the most beautiful.

Similar to Eta Aquarid meteors, Orionid meteors are known for their brightness and speed. Travelling at a speed of 66km/s, these meteors are trailed by a radiant streak of light. During its peak, you may see up to 20 meteors per hour.

South Taurids

Period: late October – late November

Peak: 5th or 6th of November

The South Taurids typically produce a measly five meteors per hour, but are one of the best for fireball sightings. Due to their occurrence in late October to early November, these blazing masses of space debris have been eerily nicknamed Halloween Fireballs.

Taurids meteors appear to spring from the constellation Taurus, the bull, and are characteristically very large and very slow – moving across the sky at about 27 km/s.

The Southern Taurids originated from Comet Encke, which can be viewed through a small telescope every 3.3 years (last observed in February/March 2017).

Leonids

Period: 6th – 30th of November

Peak: 17th or 18th of November

Leonid meteors have been responsible for some of the greatest meteor ‘storms’ in history – most notably those of 1833 and 1966.

On the night of November 12, 1833, between 50 000 to 150 000 meteors per hour lit up the sky. This included several bright fireballs that produced thick trains of smoke, which lingered in the sky for up to 20 minutes.

This storm played an important role in the history of astronomy, leading to the ‘first formulation of a theory on the origin of meteors’. This event also served to terrify many, who interpreted it as a sign that the world was ending – looking to the apocalyptic prophecy that “the stars of Heaven shall fall”.

In his journal article, Observing the 1966 Leonids, astrologer Denis Milon writes:

“The sky literally began to rain shooting stars. Everywhere we turned we saw them. We excitedly figured hourly rates from our counts and wondered how this would compare with the great showers of the past. It was obvious to us that this type of shower would terrify the ignorant, not to mention effects upon astrologers!”

Leonid meteors originated from the comet Tempel-Tuttle, and emerge from the constellation Leo, the lion. While this meteor shower does have a rather impressive history, extreme meteor storms only occur once every few decades.

Geminids

Period: 4th – 17th of December

Peak: 14th or 15th of December

The Geminids are one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year, sometimes reaching 120 meteors per hour during its peak. As its name suggests, the Geminids appear to emerge from the constellation Gemini.

Unlike most other meteor showers, Geminid meteors originate from an asteroid rather than a comet –  3200 Phaethon. This asteroid takes just 1.4 years to obit the sun.

The debris left behind by Phaeton – named for the ill-fated son of Helios (the Sun God) in Greek Mythology – is denser than the debris left by comets. This means that they move slower and burn brighter than your average meteor.