Every summer it’s a ritual: Amateur astronomers around the world look forward to observing the annual performance of the Perseid meteor shower, but often overlook six lesser-known showers that peak between July 26 and August 17.
Fortunately, the moon’s phase won’t be too noticeable in 2023 when most of these small meteor showers peak; only one in six will perish in early August due to a near full moon.
However, most are also active for quite a few days before and after maximum activity, so you can also keep an eye on them when moonlight is not an obstacle. The duration in days of a shower given here is somewhat arbitrary, as the onset and end are gradual and indeterminate.
This year will be a particularly good year to look at the Perseids and we’ll have a lot more to say about them in the coming weeks, but in the meantime why not take the time to look at the other six as well?
Related: Meteor shower 2023: when is next?
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Looking for a telescope to observe the summer night sky between meteor showers? We recommend the Celestron Astro Fi 102 as the top pick in our best telescope guide for beginners.
Five of the six small displays have radians that will reach their highest points in the southern sky between the hours of approximately 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. local daylight time. A radiant is the place in the sky where the paths of shower members, if extended backward, would intersect if plotted on a star map. Many people are misled into thinking this is the best place to look for these meteors, but in fact only “stationary meteors” – which are more or less coming straight at you – can be seen here. The largest numbers will be seen perhaps 30 degrees (the equivalent of the width of three fists at arm’s length) from the radiant, in the general direction of the point directly overhead (the zenith).
In addition to rain meteors, there are always sporadic meteors, presumably unrelated, that occur at an average rate of a few per hour.
The number of meteors an observer can see in the course of an hour depends heavily on sky conditions. The rates quoted here are based on a limiting stellar magnitude of +6.5 (a really good, dark sky), an experienced observer, and the assumption that the radiant is directly overhead. The lower the radiant in the sky, the fewer numbers are visible. At an altitude of about 30 degrees the hourly rate is halved, at 15 degrees a third.
If you want to try shooting some of these meteor showers, don’t miss our guide to photographing meteors and meteor showers, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
And if you want to take a closer look at the night sky this summer, our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a good place to start.
Here then is our list of “summer streakers” to look forward to in July and August 2023:
This is the first of our showers, peaking on July 26, but running from July 10 to August 15. Only a few Capricornids appear per hour, but they are generally bright meteors.
The radiant is just above the zodiacal constellation Capricornus the Sea Goat, a large, fuzzy figure whose stars form a roughly triangular shape, suggesting an inverted cocked hat, or perhaps a bird flying towards you. After the moon sets around midnight in the first quarter, the sky will be dark enough to view meteors.
This storm peaks just three days after the Capricornids, on July 29 (July 12 – August 19). This shower is actually composed of two radiants, indicating that we are seeing two different streams of celestial debris burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. As many as two to three dozen meteors are produced by this shower. Most shower members are moderately fast and dim, but occasionally brighter events happen, though only about 5-10% show sustained trains.
The zodiacal constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer, from which these meteors seem to originate, is marked by a small triangle of faint stars with a fourth star in the center, marking the water bearer’s pitcher. You will find it about halfway between Capricornus and the Great Square of Pegasus. Wait for the bright light of the waxing full moon to leave the sky at 1:45 a.m. to partake in this shower.
The Piscis Austrinids reach their maximum just two days after the Delta Aquarids on July 31 (July 15 – August 20). However, this squall strongly favors those living in the southern hemisphere, where the radiant climbs high into the sky. Low numbers of faint moderate speed meteors originating near the southern fish mouth (1st magnitude Fomalhaut) can be expected. Only five members per hour will be visible from far southern latitudes.
This is another weak rain shower from the stars of Capricornus, which begins around July 3, peaks around August 2, and ends on August 15. While few in number, the Alpha Capricornids often produce slow, bright yellow Fireball-class meteors that can be quite spectacular. They can be especially stunning to northern observers because of their long paths, due to their low radiation height.
Unfortunately, a near-full moon shines in Capricornus during peak night this year, likely suppressing most, if not all, of the meteors.
This is the last minor storm to peak before the Perseids. It’s another shower with two rays from the stars of Aquarius, with observable members from July 25 to August 15. Only about six members per hour are seen in good conditions during the peak night of August 6.
You only have until about 10:30 p.m., when Aquarius is low in the east-southeast. That’s when a waning full moon rises and brightens the sky for the rest of the night.
This year’s Perseids are expected to be particularly good for two reasons: first, the moon will barely interfere with the peak, as it’s just a slender crescent in the early morning sky, and second, the core of this meteor stream is expected to interact. with Earth during the morning hours of August 13 for North America. The radiant rises in the northeast in mid-evening and climbs to a point almost directly overhead, just before 6 a.m. local daylight time.
When the maximum occurs in dark skies (as expected this year), this rich display can average more than 50 members per hour, though observers blessed with particularly dark skies have occasionally seen double that. Perseids are usually fast and bright, with many flared meteors with trains often visible under good skies; the first precursors appear on July 17 and the last stragglers only on August 24.
These are the last summer showers. The limits of this storm run from August 3 to August 28, with the peak on August 17. There is apparently a 7-year period of increased activity, although no such activity is expected in 2023. Although the maximum rate is only three per hour, the current creates blazing fireballs and a careful skywatcher can be handsomely rewarded for the time spent.
The meteors seem to streak away from Cygnus the Swan, whose six brightest stars form the large figure popularly known as the Northern Cross, whose long axis runs along the Milky Way. You’ll find it practically overhead around local midnight. The moon is approaching a new phase during peak night, so this will be a very good year to check out a storm that is often ignored compared to the Perseids.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium. He prescribes about astronomy Natural History Magazinethe Farmers Almanac and other publications.