Four 1998 Leonids

Four brilliant Leonids streaked across Hydra, Canis Minor, and Orion while Lorenzo Lovato in Italy was taking this 9-minute time exposure during the 1998 shower. The radiant point in the Sickle of Leo is at far left. Lovato used a 16-mm lens to get this wide-angle view.

When stargazing, you’ll sometimes notice streaks of light flashing across the sky for an instant before disappearing. These are meteors, sometimes called "falling stars" or "shooting stars." They’re not stars at all but tiny bits of interplanetary debris (meteoroids), mostly the size of large sand grains or small pebbles, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Random (sporadic) meteors can appear on any night, at an average of six per hour, but at certain times of the year our planet passes through streams of dust and dirt left behind by comets. When this happens we get a meteor shower, during which you might see meteors at a rate of one every minute.

Shower meteors generally appear anywhere in the sky, but their direction of motion is away from a point in the sky, usually the constellation after which they're named. This apparent point of origin is the radiant. Meteor showers are best observed in the hours before dawn. Below are the dates and estimated hourly rates of some of the major showers in 2006.

Observers can use our interactive sky chart to see the appearance of the sky at 2:00 a.m. during the peak morning of each shower (except the Eta Aquarids which is set to 4:00 a.m.). Click on the "change" button to alter either the date and time or viewing location displayed by the chart. Generally, there will be more meteors than usual visible for a few days on either side of the peak of a meteor shower.

2006 Meteor Showers
Radiant and
Morning of
Hourly rate


Draco (NE) Jan. 4 40


Lyra (E) Apr. 22 10-20

Eta Aquarid

Aquarius (E) May 6 20

Delta Aquarid

Aquarius (S) July 28 20


Perseus (NE) Aug. 13 60


Orion (SE) Oct. 22 10-15


Leo (E) Nov. 18 10


Gemini (S) Dec. 14 75
* Moonlight will wash out fainter meteors in these showers.


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