The last month of 2020 will bring us some noteworthy stargazing events. In today’s article, we’d like to tell you about meteor showers that peak in December. How to observe them? How many meteors should we expect? Will there be any bright fireballs? Let’s answer these questions!
The list of December meteor showers
Of course, the main “shooting stars” of December are the Geminids. In fact, it’s one of the main stargazing highlights of the year with an hourly rate of 100 meteors! And this is why we’ll publish a separate article about the Geminids next week. For now, let’s talk about less prolific but still remarkable meteor showers.
In this list, we’ll put all meteor streams in calendar order, based on their peak dates. But keep in mind that you don’t need to wait for their peak of activity to catch some bright “shooting stars.” Observation conditions highly depend on the weather, moon phase, etc. If the sky is dark and the weather is favorable — don’t hesitate and start observing the sky right away. To learn if the conditions are suitable for stargazing tonight, check with the Star Walk 2 widgets for iOS14.
The middle of December will be favorable for meteor observation. The Moon will reach a new phase on December 14, so don’t miss a chance to see meteors in the moonless dark sky.
The Puppid-Velids are active from December 1 to 15, producing their peak rate of meteors around December 6. The radiant point of Puppid-Velids lies between the constellations of Vela and Puppis. This meteor shower is hard to spot in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s only observable from its southern areas — for example, Miami — from midnight to 6 a.m. In the Southern Hemisphere, this stream will be observable right after sunset.
Meteors of this stream appear long and graceful, shooting upward from the south. The Puppid-Velids provide up to 10 meteors per hour; however, their meteors are often seen in conjunction with the much stronger Geminids.
The σ-Hydrid meteor shower has almost the same period of activity as the Puppid-Velids — from December 3 to 15, with a peak around December 11. Its radiant point is located in the constellation Hydra, and this stream produces approximately 3 meteors per hour. Wait for 3 a.m to see more σ-Hydrid meteors. It’s hard to say whether we should expect any bright bolides from this stream, although there were registered cases over the USA and Japan several years ago.
The Monocerotid meteor shower is active from November 28 and lasts almost a month, till December 27. Its peak of activity occurs about December 13 — observers from the Earth should expect 2 meteors per hour. Some astronomers consider that there are two branches of Monocerotids — November and December ones. Since observers concentrate mostly on prolific Geminids, which also peak at around the same time, the Monocerotid meteor shower, like many other minor or weak ones, isn’t well-known.
This stream is visible over most of the Earth and is best observable around an hour after midnight your local time. At its maximum activity, the radiant point lies in extreme northern Monoceros.
- Comae Berenicids
The Comae Berenicids or former Coma Berenicids is a minor meteor shower with a radiant in the constellation Coma Berenices. The shower occurs from December 12 to December 23, with the estimated maximum around December 16 — look for its meteors before dawn. The Comae Berenicids produce around 3 meteors hourly and have an orbit similar to the December Leo Minorids. It often leads to confusion between the two meteor showers.
- December Leonis Minorids
The December Leonis Minorid meteor shower is a long duration stream active from December 6 through January 18. Maximum activity occurs near December 21, when rates may reach 5 meteors an hour. Look for the radiant point in the constellation Leo Minor and observe this stream at 5 a.m. your local time.
The Ursid meteor shower runs from December 17 to 26 and peaks on December 22, around the December solstice. Watch for these meteors in the morning, around 5 a.m. local time and expect some luminous fireballs — they are common for this stream. The Ursids are considered a major meteor shower: there were some outbursts of activity for the Ursids in the past century when rates have exceeded 25 meteors per hour. But in 2020, observers will see no more than 10 meteors an hour.
This meteor shower got its name from the Little Dipper asterism or Ursa Minor, where its radiant point lies. Due to their radiant point location, the Ursids are strictly a Northern Hemisphere event.
Note that in this article, we provide a time when meteors are supposedly best seen. The time listed is most precise for mid-northern latitudes.
Share your opinion on social media if we should make similar lists more often! Wishing you clear skies and happy stargazing.