Ursid meteor shower 2023: Everything you need to know

A meteor streaks through the sky above a snow-capped mountain.
The Ursids are active around the same time as the more well known Geminid meteor shower. (Image credit: Haitong Yu via Getty Images)

The Ursid meteor shower is active between Dec. 17-26 and will peak on Dec. 22-23. 

The Ursids are generally a sparse display, producing approximately five meteors per hour, according to Royal Museums Greenwich (opens in new tab). They are associated with Comet 8P/Tuttle, a periodic comet that follows a 13.5-year elliptical orbit around the sun. 

Visibility will not be good for the 2023 Ursid meteor shower as the waxing gibbous moon will be 89% illuminated on Dec. 23, with the Full Moon arriving on Dec. 26 at 7:33 p.m. EST (Dec 27 0033 GMT). 

Related: Meteor showers 2022: Where, when and how to see them 

profile picture Daisy Dobrijevic
Daisy Dobrijevic

Daisy joined Space.com in Feb. 2022. Before that, she was a staff writer for our sister publication All About Space magazine. Daisy has written numerous articles for notable skywatching events including guides for viewing the Perseid meteor shower, the next solar eclipse and the next lunar eclipse.   

Despite its usual tameness, the Ursid meteor shower has wowed skywatchers with some genuinely remarkable displays over the years. In 1945 and 1986, for example, up to 120 and 90 meteors per hour (opens in new tab) were observed, respectively.

What causes the Ursid meteor shower?

This orbit map shows the movement of Comet 8P/Tuttle through the solar system. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)
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The Ursids are caused by the debris of ice and dust left behind by Comet 8P/Tuttle as it passes through the solar system on its journey around the sun every 13.5 years.

When Earth passes through the comet's debris, the "comet crumbs" heat up as they enter Earth's atmosphere and produce impressive "shooting stars" that streak across the sky. 

Comet 8P/Tuttle is a medium-size comet approximately 3 miles (4.5 kilometers) in diameter. Its highly elliptical orbit around the sun brings it as close as 1.03 astronomical unit (AU) to our home star and as far out as 10.37 AU. (One astronomical unit is the average distance between Earth and the sun — approximately 93 million miles, or 150 million km.) 

Where can you see the Ursid meteor shower?

Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to emanate, known as the radiant. From Earth's perspective, the Ursid meteor shower appears to originate from the direction of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and the radiant will climb higher in the sky in the predawn hours. 

The Little Dipper is an asterism in the larger constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. The most famous star in the Little Dipper is Polaris, which is currently known as the North Star or Pole Star, as it appears to be aligned with Earth's axis, or celestial pole. (It's actually offset by 0.7 degrees, according to NASA (opens in new tab).)  

Ursid meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper, in the northern sky. (Image credit: Daisy Dobrijevic/Future)
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Don't look directly at the radiant to find meteors, as the shooting stars will be visible all over the night sky. Make sure to move your gaze around the nearby constellations. Meteors closer to the radiant have shorter trails and are more difficult to spot. If you only look at Ursa Minor, you may miss most of the Ursids. 

If you need help navigating the night sky, our guide to the best stargazing apps for Android and iOS will help you explore the cosmos from the palm of your hand. 

To best see the Ursid meteor shower, go to the darkest possible location, lean back and relax. You don't need any equipment like telescopes or binoculars, as the secret is to take in as much sky as possible and allow about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. 

If you want more advice on how to photograph the Ursids, check out our how to photograph meteors and meteor showers guide. If you need imaging gear, consider our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.

A red flashlight, warm clothing, hot drink and a comfortable chair come in very useful during a night of meteor hunting.  (Image credit: Future)
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What time is the Ursid meteor shower?

The Ursid meteor shower will be active all night long. The best time to view the meteor shower show is in the predawn hours when the radiant is at its highest point in the sky. The Ursids are active between Dec. 17-26 and will peak on Dec. 22-23. 

Additional resources

To find out more about the Ursid meteor shower and whether it will be visible from your location, check out these guides from skywatching websites Time and Date (opens in new tab) and In The Sky. (opens in new tab)  

Bibliography

NASA. (n.d.). APOD: 2011 May 14 - The Little Dipper. NASA. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110514.html (opens in new tab)

NASA. (n.d.). Ursid meteor surprise. NASA. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast18dec_1 (opens in new tab)

Ursid meteor shower: When and where to see it in the UK. Ursid meteor shower: When and where to see it in the UK | Royal Museums Greenwich. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/ursid-meteor-shower-when-where-see-it-uk (opens in new tab)

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Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Writer

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 as a reference writer having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K.