Andrew Fazekas, the "Night Sky Guy" and science columnist with National Geographic, sat down with WABC-TV Chief Meteorologist Lee Goldberg for the lowdown on the best celestial treats this fall and winter, including meteor showers, full moons and even a partial lunar eclipse that will be visible in the U.S.
He also pointed how to see the planets and spot major constellations.
Below you'll find the full fall and winter night sky schedule, along with Andrew's tips and tricks for the best possible viewing experiences.
- Oct. 21: Orionids
- Nov. 4-5: South Taurids
- Nov. 11-12: North Taurids
- Nov. 17: Leonids
- Dec. 13-14: Geminids
- Dec. 22: Ursids
- Jan. 3-5: Quadrantids
Meteor showers experienced on Earth are actually sand-grain-sized particles shed from comets, Fazekas said. Each year, Earth slams into the particles "like clockwork," creating these annual celestial shows.
"Those individual little streaks of light that you see during a meteor shower, it's a tiny thing that's burning up in the upper atmosphere. We're talking about 60 to 80 miles above our heads [where] all the action is happening," he said.
Fazekas said even shower-scouters in urban and suburban areas should be able to see the best showers' larger fireballs, which are actually just bigger pieces of comet debris. Fireballs can range in size from that of a golf ball to a living room sofa, Fazekas said, and are much more likely to be visible on nights when showers peak.
"[Fireballs] can be so bright that they can create shadows on the ground. They can appear as if they're on fire with a smoke trail," he said. "Sometimes, rarely, they even are associated with sonic booms."
The Leonids, which peaked on the night of Nov. 17-18, are known for big, bright streaks of light, but this year, they also compete with a bright gibbous moon. About 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour are usually visible.
The skies have a pre-Christmas spectacular in store: The Geminids, the "granddaddy" of meteor showers, will produce about 50 to 80 shooting stars per hour on the night of Dec. 13-14.
And finally, Fazekas said the new year's Quadrantids "never fail." With a new moon the night before the shower's peak on Jan. 3, stargazers should have a clear view of the Quadrantids' 60 to 120 shooting stars per hour.
Each meteor shower gets its name from the constellation it appears to radiate from, giving viewers a sense of where to look in the sky. For example, the Orionids appear to originate from the constellation Orion, and the Geminids look like they're streaming out of Gemini.
Full moons and partial lunar eclipse
- Oct. 20: Hunter's Moon
- Nov. 19: Beaver Moon, paired with a partial lunar eclipse
- Dec. 18: Cold Moon
- Jan. 17: Wolf Moon
- Feb. 16: Snow Moon
- March 18: Worm Moon
Folks in North America witnessed the partial eclipse of the full Beaver Moon in the early morning hours of Nov. 19/
Lunar eclipses happen when the moon enters the Earth's shadow, Fazekas said. In this case, 95% of the moon will be covered.
"This is when [the moon] turns that eerie orangey-red color. All the sunsets and sunrises around the Earth are being imparted at the same time as the thin veneer of our atmosphere funnels that light [the sun behind us] onto the surface of the moon," he said.
The fall and winter months don't have any supermoons in store; instead, December's Cold Moon is a micromoon. This means the full moon disc will appear unusually small in the sky.
Fazekas said the best time to see full moons is after sunset.
"Find out where that sunset is happening and turn your back to it. That's where you'll watch the full moon rise wherever you are," he said.
How to see the planets
- Mercury will appear as a bright star in the morning sky now to Nov. 1. It will shine in the night sky from Nov. 29 to Dec. 31.
- Venus will appear in the western sky at dusk in the evenings now through Dec. 31. It's the second-brightest object in our sky, after the moon.
- Mars makes its reddish appearance in the morning sky between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31.
- Jupiter is the third brightest object in our sky. Look for it in the evenings from now until Dec. 31.
- Saturn's rings are only visible through a telescope, but the planet itself can still be seen with the naked eye in the evenings until Dec. 31.
Planet spotters should get familiar with where the sun rises and sets, a path that astronomers call "the ecliptic," Fazekas said.
"And that's because a lot of planets that we can see from here on Earth hang around near where the sun is, especially when we're talking about planets like Mercury and Venus," he said.
The moon, as it changes phases and positions from month to month, is also a useful guidepost for finding neighboring planets.
"And you don't need binoculars or telescopes, just the naked eye and some clear skies," Fazekas said.
The night sky not only changes from hour to hour as the Earth spins on its axis but on a monthly and seasonal cycle as well.
This means that the season's newer constellations rise in the east and older ones set in the west.
A perennial favorite of fall is Pegasus, the mythical winged horse of Greek mythology.
As the winter months approach, Orion, named after the mythological hunter, will dominate the evening skies with its three belt stars.
To learn more about the night sky and what lies beyond, check out National Geographic's new map of the solar system and sun, updated for the first time since 1986. The interactive experience is available now at natgeo.com/space.
CNN Wire contributed to this report.
The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of National Geographic Partners and this ABC station.