Ursid meteor shower: How and when to watch the last shooting stars of the year

  • Fiza Pirani, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
8:24 p.m Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 Things to Do in Atlanta
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Got plans this weekend? The Ursid meteor shower is expected to peak Friday and Saturday, offering up your final ticket to catch 2017’s shooting stars.

The meteors radiate (or originate) from a region close to the constellation Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper.

The Ursids are active annually between Dec. 17 and Dec. 24.

According to Space.com, the shower was first recorded in England in 1900.

The meteor’s particles come from Comet 8P/Tuttle, which circles the sun every 14 years.

The Ursids occur as the comet passes Earth and leaves behind “a trail of comet crumbs” or space debris.

Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told Space.com that a meteoroid is essentially space debris. For example, the crumbs from Halley’s Comet are meteoroids.

Once the meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere, they become meteors (or shooting stars).

Though most meteors disintegrate before hitting the ground, meteors that do strike the surface of the planet are called meteorites, Cooke said.

The Ursid meteor shower is visible from Earth’s northern hemisphere. It’s best to be somewhere far from city lights.

The Ursids peak after midnight on Friday, Dec. 22 into the early, dark morning hours of Dec. 23. You can also catch the show overnight Saturday before dawn.

According to NASA, the Ursids are a “low-key” meteor shower that normally produces 5-10 shootings stars every hour.

Jane Houston Jones at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said skywatchers can expect 10 meteors per hour this year, Space.com reported.

But with only a crescent moon around sunset, the skies will be especially dark and the meteors will be easy to see.

In the past, scientists have seen some strong Ursid outbursts. The strongest Ursid outburst on record happened in 1945, when European observers saw 120 meteors per hour, according to NASA.

Dress in warm clothes, head outside to a space far from city lights and look north. Meteors will show up across the sky.

According to Space.com, binoculars and telescopes won’t actually help. That’s because those tools are designed to magnify and focus on stationary objects in the sky.

The naked eye will do just fine.

Head outdoors about 30 minutes before the show and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.

View full experience