ROSEMARY HARRIS: I don't pretend to be an accomplished skywatcher (although back in the day, I did produce a video called Skywatching...), but dang if I don't let myself get caught up in the occasional celestial event. Like the last time the planets were in transit (three or four all visible at once, in a line.) Or the summer that Mars was as close to earth as it will be for the next gajillion years.
Eleven years ago I was introduced to the Leonid Meteor showers. Every 33 years the Leonids peak and in 2001 there promised to be a great show. I set my clock for four a.m. when the viewing was supposed to be best in my part of Connecticut. I sat bundled up on my deck in a resurrected chaise (it was November) and waited. I have very little light pollution where I live so it didn't take long. I saw so many meteors I lost count at about 200. I ran inside to wake my husband who mumbled an earnest appreciation for my newfound astronomical (!) enthusiasm and then rolled over.
Tonight I will try again. This month the Geminid meteor showers (they appear to originate from the constellation Gemini but don't really) will be best seen tonight when there is no moon. Get out the blanket and the thermos of hot chocolate. If you've never seen one it's a sight not to be missed. With all the talk of "stars" like Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan, why not take a look at a few real stars? There should be hundreds of them tonight with no paparazzi in sight.
From the American Meteror Society's FAQs page
Most meteor showers have their origins with comets. Each time a comet swings by the sun, it produces copious amounts of meteoroid sized particles which will eventually spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid “stream.” If the Earth’s orbit and the comet’s orbit intersect at some point, then the Earth will pass through this stream for a few days at roughly the same time each year, encountering a meteor shower. The only major shower clearly shown to be non-cometary is the Geminid shower, which share an orbit with the asteroid (3200 Phaethon): one that comes unusually close to the sun as well as passing through the earth’s orbit. Most shower meteoroids appear to be “fluffy”, but the Geminids are much more durable as might be expected from asteroid fragments.