A Perseid meteor shower at Chapel of Garioch, near Aberdeen on Aug. 12, 2013.
A Perseid meteor shower at Chapel of Garioch, near Aberdeen on Aug. 12, 2013.Geoffrey Robinson—Rex USA
A Perseid meteor shower at Chapel of Garioch, near Aberdeen on Aug. 12, 2013.
A bright Geminid meteor falls from the sky over the summit of 14,505 foot Mount Whitney in California's Sierra Nevada mountains on Dec. 14, 2011.
A multiple exposure of a Leonid meteor shower over Joshua Tree National Park.
Stonehenge during a Perseid meteor shower in Salisbury Plain, England on Aug. 13, 2013.
A Perseid meteor shower set against the Milky Way in Sebastopol, Calif., on Aug. 12, 2010.
Framed within Mobuis Arch, a Geminid meteor streaks through a starfilled sky above the Sierra Nevada mountains in California's Eastern Sierra on Dec. 14, 2011.
A Leonid meteor shower, centered on Polaris, the North Star.
A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky over the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank on Aug. 13, 2013 in Holmes Chapel, England.
A Perseid meteor streaks past stars in the night sky over the village of Kuklici, known for its hundreds of naturally formed stones, near Kratovo, east of Skopje, on Aug. 13, 2012.
A multiple exposure of a Leonid meteor shower.
Perseid meteors streak across the sky through star trails over Cathedral Gorge State Park in this long exposure on Aug. 12, 2013.
Geminid meteors streak across the sky behind a barn in western Iowa on Dec. 12, 2012.
Three Perseid meteors appear in the predawn sky over Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada on Aug. 12, 2012.
A Perseid meteor (top) and the trail of an jet airplane converge over the cliff walls of Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas on Aug. 11, 2009.
This 15-minute long exposure shows stars and meteors during the Perseid meteor shower in Imjingak Pyeonghwa-Nuri park in Paju, South Korea, on Aug. 13, 2013.
A Perseid meteor shower at Chapel of Garioch, near Aberdeen on Aug. 12, 2013.
Geoffrey Robinson—Rex USA
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All That Glitters: 15 Breathtaking Photos of Meteor Showers

Updated: Nov 17, 2014 4:27 PM ET

Not all meteor showers are created equal. Some are cosmic nor’easters; some are mere drizzles. This year’s edition of the Leonid meteor shower, beginning Nov. 17, will, alas, be more of the latter—and there’s a simple cosmic explanation for that.

The annual sky show is the work of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which makes a single loop through the solar system once every 33.5 years, leaving a trail of dust and other debris in its path. Once a year, Earth moves through that wake, and the cometary bits streaking through the atmosphere are what we see as a meteor shower. When the comet passed by recently, the debris trail is denser and the fireworks are greater.

That was the case in 1966, when tens of thousands of meteors rained down per hour. Things were a little spottier, but still still pretty exciting from 1999 to 2002, when there were thousands of flashes every hour. And now? Expect no more than 10 to 15, since Tempel-Tuttle is at its greatest distance from the sun—about 1.8 billion mi (2.9 billion km) away.

Still, if you’ll take whatever meteors you can get, peak viewing times in North America will be from midnight to dawn on the nights of Nov. 17 and Nov. 18. Look in the direction of the constellation Leo—which is how the shower got its name. A NASA livestream, beginning at 7:30 PM EST on the 17th will also be tracking things as they happen—or in this quiet year, kind of don’t happen.

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