As in all years, the activity of meteor showers largely depends on the phase of the moon. If the moon is more than one-half illuminated and above the horizon at the time of maximum activity, then the display will be muted compared to what could be seen under perfect conditions. Here we discuss the circumstances of major meteor shower events predicted for 2023, most notably discussing the effects of the moonlight on each display.
The Lyrids are predicted to peak on 23 April 2023 at 01:00 Universal Time. Asia is favored for this particular time but decent activity can usually be seen by most observers on this morning, regardless of their location. The moon will be just past new and not a factor at all this year. Expect to see no more than 10-15 Lyrids per hour during the pre-dawn hours of the 23rd when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky.
The eta Aquariids will peak on May 6th and are usually the strongest display visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately the moon is only one day past its full phase which will severely reduce the number of meteors seen. On a positive note, this display is predicted to be enhanced this year and next so it would be worth your time to try and view this display despite the moonlight. Unlike most meteor showers, the eta Aquariids produce good rates for nearly a week centered on date of maximum. Due to its radiant location only 45 degrees from the sun, these meteors are only visible during the last couple of hours prior to dawn. They are best seen from the southern tropics where the longer nights allow the radiant to be seen at a higher elevation before dawn. With the moonlight and possible enhancement of activity this year, hourly rates would be a total guess. Under dark conditions during past enhancements, zenith hourly rates have reached as high as 75.
Another highlight for observers in the Southern Hemisphere will be the Southern delta Aquariids. This meteor shower is expected to peak on the morning of July 30th. On that date the moon is two days from full and the moon will lie above the horizon most of the night. This will severely limit the activity seen from this source. These meteors are best seen during the mid-morning hours when the radiant is situated highest in the sky. These meteors are best seen from the southern tropics where up to 25 shower members may be seen each hour under dark skies. Rates are usually less than 10 per hour as seen from the Northern Hemisphere no matter the moon’s phase.
The Perseids are expected to peak on the morning of August 13th in 2023. The timing is variable but North America seems to be the ideal location to view this display this year. There will be no lunar interference this year as the moon will reach its new phase on August 16th. This shower offers an entertaining display of meteors as many shower members are bright and colorful. Observers who view from dark sky sites can expect to see up to 60 per hour. While these meteors can be seen all night long from the Northern Hemisphere, they are best seen after midnight when the radiant lies higher in the sky. This display is visible from the southern tropics, but at a much reduced rate as the radiant just skims the northern horizon just prior to dawn.
The Orionids are expected to reach maximum activity on the morning of October 22nd. Like the eta Aquariids, these meteors are remnants of comet 1P/Halley and produce good rates for a week centered on the date of maximum activity. The moon on that date will be half illuminated at its first quarter phase. It will set near 1am daylight saving time, leaving the remainder of the night free of moonlight. Zenith hourly rates have been in the range of 20-25 recently, so unless your sky is near perfect only expect to see 10-15 Orionids per hour during the morning hours prior to dawn. These meteors are well seen from all areas except extreme southern latitudes, where daylight is 24 hours a day this time of year.
There has been some confusion concerning the peak dates of the Taurids lately. Both branches of the Taurids are complex, being produced by Comet Encke and other small objects related to this comet. The southern branch reaches a secondary maximum in mid-October, but are best seen near November 6th. The northern branch reaches its peak activity on November 13th. Maximum hourly rates are usually near 5, but it is the fireballs from these showers that make them notable. There was a swarm of fireballs in 2022, which will be repeated to a lesser degree in 2025. Some fireballs will appear during the 2023 display, but nowhere close to the number we experienced in 2022. Moonlight will greatly interfere with viewing the Taurids in 2023. The full moon occurs on October 28th so your best bet for seeing these meteors will be during the evening hours, prior to moonrise, during the first week of November. These meteors are visible all night long but are best placed around midnight when the radiant lies highest in the sky. This activity is visible from everywhere except extreme southern latitudes.
The Leonids have been quite weak recently. Even predicted enhancements of activity have failed to materialize. Your best opportunity to see any of these meteors will occur during the morning hours near November 18th. The moon will set prior to midnight on that date so lunar interference is not an issue in 2023. Even from dark sky sites only expect to see 5-10 Leonids per hour at best. The Leonids are expected to roar back to life in the early 2030’s, when they may produce the best displays of the year.
The Geminids reach maximum activity on the morning of 14 December 2023. On this date the moon will be just past new and will not interfere with viewing the display. This should be the best display of the year with rates seen near 2am on the 14th being near 60-75 meteors per hour as seen from rural sites. While the maximum is definitely on the 14th, the mornings of December 12, 13, and 15th will also provide good activity. Unlike most showers, these meteors are active all night long. Rates seen during the early evening hours are low as much of the activity will be obscured by the horizon. Rate begin to kick into high gear around 9pm when the radiant reaches an altitude of 30 degrees. The Geminids are often bright, colorful, and make great targets for astrophotography.
The Ursids are expected to peak on the night of December 22/23 in 2023. The moon will be a waxing gibbous at that time and will set several hours prior to dawn, allowing a decent look for any Ursid activity. Ursid rates have been low recently so only expect hourly rates of 5-10 per hour at maximum, even from dark sky sites. Ursid activity is invisible from the Southern Hemisphere as the radiant remains below the horizon during the nighttime hours. Like most meteor showers, the Ursids are best seen during the last few hours prior to dawn when the radiant lies highest above the horizon.
We are including the Quadrantids of 2024 as they peak shortly after the New Year on January 4, 2024 near 09:40 Universal Time. This timing is favorable for North America. The moon is half illuminated on January 3rd, so a bright moon will be in the southeastern sky during the best portion of this display. A fifty percent illuminated moon creates much less glare than a full moon so good activity can still be obtained by simply viewing far enough to the north to keep direct moonlight from entering your field of view. This display has the potential of being the strongest meteor shower of the year as those viewing from dark locations with the radiant high in the sky at maximum can see in excess of 100 Quadrantids per hour. These meteors are best seen during the early morning hours when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky.
In conclusion, 2023 appears to be a very favorable year for meteor watchers. Let’s hope the weather cooperates in your area!
Data from this article was obtained from the 2023 IMO Meteor Shower Calendar by Juergen Rendtel. It is available free of charge online at: https://www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2023.pdf