Winter Stargazing: How and When to Watch the UK’s Winter Meteor Showers From Your Garden or Balcony
Now is a great time for stargazing. And current lockdown restrictions could mean that any reduced activity could result in better conditions for spotting stars, constellations and meteors.
During the height of the first lockdown in March, many stargazers reported that lesser smog and light pollution stemming from reduced night-time activity allowed for darker night skies. And this made space and stars all the easier to see.
“Meteor showers are best seen in the darkest places”
Those living in rural areas are generally in with the best odds of spotting meteor showers and stars from their gardens thanks to the lower levels of light pollution. Although many with dark back gardens, balconies, or rooftops may still be able to spot them.
“It’s not easy to observe space from cities” explains Ashley King, a planetary scientist based at the Natural History Museum. “However, there are a few spots you can go to. The general advice is to get as high above buildings as you can and minimise the light in your vicinity.”
While meteor showers are best seen in the darkest places, those in metropolitan areas are still in with a good chance of spotting meteors on a clear night if light pollution is low and they are able to find a private area with minimal light around them, such as on a private balcony or rooftop.
For when lockdown is over, the UK’s National Parks often have very low levels of light pollution and the Isle of Wight has some of the best dark sky sites in the UK, including Artherfield, Brighstone Beach, the Needles Head and Culver Down.
“Beautiful streaks of light”
One of the longest-lasting meteor showers, the Taurids started in October and is continuing through November. Although not as frequent in number as some other showers, the Taurids are normally beautiful. And they also provide astrology lovers with plenty of opportunity to spot them. The meteor shower hits in two segments; the South Taurids, between 25 September and 25 November, and the North Taurids, between 12 October and 2 December.
The Geminids is one of the last of 2020’s major meteor showers. It takes place when Earth collides with debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon. And it often produces a reliable show of very bright, moderately fast meteors. The Geminids often produce multicoloured showers with displays of white, yellow, green, red and blue often visible. These are caused by metals like sodium or calcium in the shower and are normally visible between 14 – 17 December.
And The Ursids are likely to produce beautiful streaks of light from debris left behind by comet 8P/Tuttle. They appear to radiate from constellation Ursa Minor; and this one should be visible between 17 – 25 December.
And it’s easier to spot meteors than you think. “For the best chances to spot them, find as dark of an area as you can” explains Royal Observatory Greenwich Astronomer, Anna Ross. “Allow around 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark to see the little points of light travelling very fast across the sky. As meteors move so quickly, its best to look up without using telescopes or binoculars so you can see as much of the sky as possible.”
Apps such as Star Walk or Google Sky are also available. And these can also help people with stargazing and spotting constellations more easily.
Red Funnel Ferries also have a comprehensive stargazing guide for beginners.