If you are reading this from a big city in India, chances are you don't think you'll ever catch a meteor shower. Whether it's pollution or skyscrapers blocking the view, many people have resigned themselves to a non-starry life. But chin up, folks. If you head to a semi-urban area, the outskirts of your hometown, or even plan a two-day getaway in the lap of nature, it's enough to help you enjoy a spectacular show.
Every meteor shower has a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR), a theoretical maximum of meteors one can see in an hour. Since most viewers aren't under ideal observing conditions, the actual count is slightly lower. But that doesn't affect the fun.
Wherever you set up, make sure it's away from light pollution. Wait 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, maybe carry a picnic blanket, a red-filtered torch for reading star charts, and some snacks. Remember to not look at the glare of your smartphone. If you can spot the constellation of Little Dipper, it means your meteor gazing site is dark enough.
All meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to 'fall' from, a location called the radiant. The Orionids fall from Orion, the Perseids from Perseus, and so on.
Now that the basics are out of the way, here are nine meteor showers that Indians should watch out for in 2020:
What: Humanity's oldest continuing shower, the Lyrids have been observed since 687 BCE. The meteors are debris from long-period comet Thatcher, and you are likely to see 10 per hour.
Peak: April 21 to 23
What: Emerging from Aquarius, these meteors separated from Halley's Comet centuries ago. It has a broad timeline for good viewing: about a week, peaking at May 5, and can have a ZHR of a meteor a minute!
Peak: May 4 to 5
What: Likely to be 3,500 to 5,000 years old, this shower began when half of its parent body disintegrated and joined Earth's orbit. We won't see most of this dust cloud until the 23rd-25th century when it becomes one of the most powerful annual showers. For now, Alpha Capricornids offers some bright fireballs, averaging at up to five per hour.
Peak: July 28 to 29
What: One of the most prolific showers in the Northern Hemisphere, and memorialised by John Denver and Sekai no Owari, the Perseids have a ZHR of up to 100 meteors per hour. Its parent body is Comet Swift-Tuttle.
Peak: August 11 to 12
What: The most unpredictable name in this list, the Draconids have a variable ZHR depending on the density of its parent body's dust streams. In 2012, we saw up to 1,000 meteors per hour.
Peak: October 8 to 9
What: Associated with debris from Halley's Comet, the Orionids shower lasts about a week in October. It has a ZHR of 20 meteors per hour, and is best viewed about 45 to 90 degrees away from the radiant, Orion the Hunter.
Peak: October 20 to 21
What: Known for superlative meteor storms every 33 years, this fast-moving shower has a ZHR of 15 per hour. Fun fact: each annual display releases up to 13 tons of particles in the Earth's atmosphere!
Peak: November 16 to 17
What: One of two major showers that doesn't come from a comet, the Geminds have a ZHR of 120 per hour. Its parent body is the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, often called a 'rock comet' since it has particles chipping off similar to how mudcracks appear on a dry waterbody. Often yellowish, they can appear anywhere in the night sky.
Peak: December 13 to 14
What: Ursa Minor is the radiant constellation for the Ursids shower, which has a ZHR of 10 meteors per hour. It usually coincides with the winter solstice, and lasts for a week.
Peak: December 21 to 22
These are the meteor showers with best chances of viewing by amateurs. For a list that includes fainter showers, you can see the yearly calendar released by the International Meteor Organization.