Ursid meteor shower 2018: How and when to watch the last shooting stars of the year

Here's what you need to know before you head outside.

This story has been updated.

The Christmas holidays just got a bit brighter. Don't miss the Ursid meteor shower, expected to peak Friday and Saturday, for your final ticket to catch 2018's shooting stars.

Here’s what you should know about the Ursid meteor shower:

NASA animation shows a comet as it approaches the inner solar system.
NASA animation shows a comet as it approaches the inner solar system.

Why is it called the Ursid meteor shower?

The meteors radiate (or originate) from a region close to the constellation Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper.

The Ursids are active annually between Dec. 17 and Dec. 24.

According to Space.com, the shower was first recorded in England in 1900.

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What causes the meteor shower?

The meteor’s particles come from Comet 8P/Tuttle, which circles the sun every 14 years.

The Ursids occur as the comet passes Earth and leaves behind “a trail of comet crumbs” or space debris.

What’s the difference between a meteoroid, meteor and, meteorite anyway?

Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, told Space.com that a meteoroid is essentially space debris. For example, the crumbs from Halley's Comet are meteoroids.

Once the meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere, they become meteors (or shooting stars).

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Though most meteors disintegrate before hitting the ground, meteors that do strike the surface of the planet are called meteorites, Cooke said.

Who can see the Ursid meteor shower?

The Ursid meteor shower is visible from Earth’s northern hemisphere. It’s best to be somewhere far from city lights.

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When is the best time to watch the meteor shower?

The 2018 Ursids will peak after midnight on Friday, Dec. 21 into the early, dark morning hours of Dec. 22.

How many meteors will I see?

According to NASA, the Ursids are a "low-key" meteor shower that normally produces 5-10 shootings stars every hour.

"This year, an outburst to double normal is due, but the meteors will pale next to the sky's full moon," Space.com experts reported. Cooke gave this year's shower "the cursed Ursids."

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In the past, scientists have seen some strong Ursid outbursts. The strongest Ursid outburst on record happened in 1945, when European observers saw 120 meteors per hour, according to NASA.

What’s the best way to watch the Ursid meteor shower?

Dress in warm clothes, head outside to a space far from city lights and look north. Meteors will show up across the sky.

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Do I need binoculars?

According to Space.com, binoculars and telescopes won't actually help. That's because those tools are designed to magnify and focus on stationary objects in the sky.

The naked eye will do just fine.

How to safely watch the shower

Head outdoors about 30 minutes before the show and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.

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