Leonid Meteor Shower – Peak: Nov. 16-17
Next up is the Leonids — this is a faint meteor shower, and this year it will be outshone by the moon during its peak in the early morning Nov. 17.
The Leonid meteor shower occurs when Earth's orbit crosses debris left in the wake of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which itself orbits the sun every 33.3 years. The meteors are the fastest of any major shower, Cooke said: they travel at 161,000 miles per hour, or almost 45 miles per second (259,200 km per hour or 72 km per second).
Faster meteors mean that fainter ones will have longer tails and be more visible in the sky, especially when you look further away from their apparent source (because they're moving across the sky more than directly at you).
Some years, the Leonids are in outburst: In 1999, they reached a staggering 3,000 per hour, and in 2001 and 2002 they were over 2,000 per hour.
"Every 33 years, the Leonids outburst; but this ain't going to be one of those years," Cooke said of 2017 — and the same goes for 2018. "What happens is you run into trails. The normal Leonid stream that we encounter year after year is kind of a weak debris stream; it doesn't have much material, but every 33 years or so — roughly 33 years — conditions align where we run into denser portions of those streams."
The Leonids are set to outburst with rates of a few hundred per hour in 2032; before that, the most we can expect without moonlight's interference is 10-15 per hour. Top 10 Leonid Meteor Shower Facts
NEXT: Where to spot the Leonids
Where To See The Leonids
The Leonids are visible around the world; while it might be a bit easier to see them from the Northern Hemisphere, but they're "almost as good" from the Southern Hemisphere, Cooke said. Of course this year, they will only be very faintly visible in the moonlight.
The Leonids appear to emanate from the constellation Leo, but don't look straight at it to try and catch them in the sky: The meteors can appear all over the sky, as they streak away from that point, and the ones that are further away can be easier to see because they feature longer tails.
NEXT: December's mighty Geminids
Geminid Meteor Shower – Peak: Dec. 13-14
The bright Geminid meteor shower will light the skies the night of Dec. 13-14.
Because of a just-past-full moon, it will be too bright to see more than about 20-30 meteors per hour, Cooke said.
However, "It won't be a total washout, because the Geminids have a lot of fireballs in them," he added.
The best time to view the Geminids is around 2 a.m. in your local time zone, but meteors will be visible earlier, too.
"Most meteor showers are like, get up in the early morning before dawn or stay awake all night," Cooke said. "The Geminids are nice in that you can get good activity from 10:00 at night on, so you can see a decent number of Geminids before midnight."
The first recorded observation of the Geminids was in 1833, meaning the meteor stream is nearly 200 years old. It comes from the path of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, and Jupiter's gravity has pulled the stream of particles closer to Earth over time. The asteroid itself passes extremely close to the sun during its 1.4 year orbits, heading inside Mercury's orbit.
"Your best two showers of the year will be the Perseids and the Geminids, and then the others will be okay, depending on what I've told you about the moon conditions," Cooke said.[Geminid Meteor Shower Wows Skywatchers Around the World (Photos)]
NEXT: How to spot the Geminids
Where To See The Geminids
To spot the Geminids this December, you'll want to be oriented toward the constellation Gemini, although remember that they can appear anywhere in the sky. The meteor shower's peak is about 2 a.m., but you can see them earlier than that — this is a rare meteor shower where you can see a high rate per hour after about 10 p.m. or so after the constellation rises.
Be sure to dress very warm, depending on your location; you'll need to give yourself 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so you can lie back and enjoy the show. Meteor showers are best viewed without binoculars or telescopes, just the naked eye — with a wider field of view, you're more likely to spot the meteors wherever they appear.
And if you miss the peak, don't worry:
"Meteor showers like the Geminids and the Perseids hang around for a couple of weeks," Cooke said. "But in order to really see decent meteors, generally you've got a night on either side of the peak for the Geminids and the Perseids. You don't want to be more than a day or two off the peak night."
"Of course, the best rates are on the peak night, but you'll see decent numbers a day or so away from the peak," he added.
Happy meteor hunting!