Meteor showers occur, usually, when the Earth during its orbit around the Sun enters the debris stream from a comet.
As comets get closer to the Sun they begin to heat up and vaporize. This material that gets left in the wake of the comet collides with the planet and we see "falling" or "shooting stars".
"Shooting stars" can happen at any time of year and you may see one by chance at anytime.
Showers are different in that they occur at regular times during the year, and the number of meteors is increased.
The number of meteors varies from shower to shower. Some can produce as few as five meteors an hour, but the best ones can produce upwards of a hundred or more.
Occasionally a meteor shower will be particularly intense an create a meteor storm. A meteor storm can show many hundreds and even thousands of meteors an hour. Meteor storms are rare though.
The radiant is the area where the meteors seem to come or radiate from. The area of the sky gives the meteor shower its name. The shower is named for the constellation containing the radiant.
So the Lyrids radiate from the
constellation Lyra for example and the radiant for the Orionids is
Here is a list of some of the annual showers and their dates.
The peak date is the 22nd at about 10-20 meteors per hour. The radiant is near the bright star Vega, which will rise in the northeast around 10pm.
Best seen in the early morning before dawn.
Peak date May 6th with varying totals depending on location(upwards of 10 in the north, 30 in the south).
Aquarius is more of a southern constellation and those in the southern hemisphere will see more meteors than those of us up north. Eta Aquarii rises about 4am so best seen in the early pre-dawn hours.
Late July and early August
Again favoring those towards the south, this shower is visually rather weak and dim. Peak around July 29-30 with about 10-20 meteors an hour.
One of the best showers of the year. The Perseids can peak at 100 meteors an hour in dark skies. This shower also occurs during warm, summer nights in the northern hemisphere. These meteors tend to be bright and leave nice trails as well. Late night until dawn visibility.
Not the best or brightest shower, but the Draconids start earlier in the night as Draco rises just around nightfall in the north. On rare occasions the dragon rears its head and breathes fire and a large shower happens.
Peaking with about 10-20 meteors per hour, the Orionids are known for sometimes producing extra bright fireballs. Increasing after midnight and lasting until dawn, peak date is October 21.
The Taurids are not very numerous per hour, about 7, but they last from September through November.
The Taurids do produce bright fireballs and these showers are best caught around midnight as Taurus rises in the sky.
The Leonids last through mid-November and peak at about 15-20 meteors an hour.
The Leonids are famous for producing some of the best meteor storms ever. The last occurred in 1966 and witnesses claim that thousands of meteors per minute were streaking through the sky for about 15 minutes. Leonids storms happen every 33-34 years on average but the last one was nothing like 1966. Peak viewing will be from midnight to dawn on the 17th and the 18th.
Along with the Perseids in August the best meteor shower of the year. Peak rates of upwards to 100 meteors an hours are consistently noted.
Geminid showers start earlier in the evening and last until dawn. Bright and numerous the Geminids are a must see for any stargazer.
Get out early, around 9pm, on the 12th and 13th and watch until dawn.
Meteor showers last for many days you can get out and enjoy the show over a range of dates.
The peak date is the date expected to produce the most meteors per hour, but you could see the approximate peak number on days on either side of this date as well.
No special tools are needed for meteor watching. As with stargazing your eyes are perfect for this event. Think of it as a night picnic. You will be best served by finding a safe, dark spot.
As you will be spending all the time looking up some way to recline and rest the neck(think lawn chair) would help.
Dress for the weather and remember that its cooler at night in higher elevations.
A pair of binoculars might be of interest to check out some of the other starry sights while you're there.
Lastly, remember that a bright moon can
reduce the number of meteors you may see. You may have to plan your
viewing for the early hours of the morning before dawn.