By ANNE BESTON
New Zealand star-gazers were not sure yesterday whether they were in for a spectacular firestorm or a dim drizzle from the Leonid meteor shower early this morning.
Final predictions had put a dampener on their hopes, as the cosmic fireworks display was timed to occur at 6.24 am, too far into daylight to be seen clearly and more than two hours later than expected.
But Auckland Astronomical Society member Roger Feasey said he was taking no chances.
"Predictions have been wrong before.
"No one really knows until it happens."
The best views of the meteor shower were expected to be in the northeast, away from city lights.
The Leonid is normally a reliable, yet quiet annual meteor shower from the Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 33 years or so, shedding dust and dirt as it goes.
This year, the Earth will pass through the denser part of the trail of debris left behind by the comet during its passage through the inner solar system in 1767.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through debris left behind by comets, and meteor storms result when it passes through particularly dense ribbons of comet debris.
The rate of meteors during a storm can range from 10 to 15 an hour up to 1000 or more.
Leonid has produced some cosmic fireworks on a grand scale in its time.
In 1966, the western states of America were treated to a 30-minute meteor shower described as being like an alien fireworks display.
And in 1833, Americans thought the world had come to an end as the sky was lit by "stars" falling in great showers.
The comet was named after Ernst Tempel and Horace Tuttle, who spotted it in 1865 and 1866.
Its nucleus is about 4km in diameter.
By ANNE BESTON