Throughout the year as the Earth revolves around the sun, it passes through the cosmic debris flow. The resulting meteor shower can illuminate the night sky from dusk to dawn, and if you are lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse.
The next bath you might be able to see is Leonids. Active between November 6 and November 30, this event culminates around Sunday night until Monday morning, or November 17-18.
Leonid is one of the most dazzling meteor showers and every few decades produces a meteor storm where more than 1,000 meteors can be seen in an hour. Cross your fingers for luck – the last time Leonid was strong was in 2002. The parent comet was called Comet-Temple / Tuttle and orbited the sun every 33 years.
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Where does the meteor shower come from
If you see a meteor shower, what you usually see is the remnants of an ice comet crashing into Earth's atmosphere. Comets are a kind of dirty snowball: As they travel through the solar system, they leave a dusty trail of rock and ice left in space long after they leave. When the Earth passes through this comet's cascade of waste, debris – which can be as small as a grain of sand – penetrates the sky at such a speed that it explodes, making the appearance of heavenly fireworks. General rule of thumb with meteor showers: You have never witnessed Earth crossing into remnants of the comet's newest orbit. Conversely, the burned bits come from the previous trajectory. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower you see a meteor released from when its parent comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, was visited in 1862 or earlier, not from the most recent trajectory in 1992.
That's because it takes time for debris from the comet's orbit to float to the position where it intersects with Earth's orbit, according to Bill Cooke, an astronomer at NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.
How to watch
The best way to see meteor showers is to reach a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, it would be somewhere with a dark sky, far from city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of watching the show, look for a place that offers a wide display without obstacles.
Pieces of meteor shower are visible over a certain period of time, but they really peak from dusk to dawn on certain days. These days are when Earth's orbit crosses the thickest part of the cosmic flow. Meteor showers can vary at peak times, with some reaching a maximum of only a few hours and others for several nights. Bathrooms tend to be most visible after midnight and before dawn.
It is best to use your naked eye to see meteor showers. Binoculars or telescopes tend to limit your field of view. You may need to spend about half an hour in the dark to let your eyes get used to the reduced light. Stargazer must be reminded that moonlight and weather can obscure the show. But if that happens, there is usually a live streaming meteor such as that hosted by NASA and by Slooh.