This year the Leonid meteor shower will be at its peak on the evening of November 17 and 18. The Leonids are a particularly exciting shower, known for their bright, fast-moving meteors. With the moon partially illuminated at 19 percent of its full brightness on November 17, there’s a good chance of seeing them from anywhere in the world.
What are meteor showers?
Meteors, or shooting stars, are bright flashes of light that spread across the sky, appearing as if out of nowhere, and then disappearing within a few seconds. They are caused by pieces of space debris, usually around the size of a grain of rice, entering Earth’s atmosphere and burning up, and they can occur at any time of year. Typical meteor showers occur around the same time each year, when Earth’s orbit brings us into the cloud of debris that is usually left over from the comet.
Why are they called Leonids?
The Leonid meteor shower is named after the constellation it appears to come from, in this case the constellation Leo, but actually originates from the debris of Comet Temple-Tuttle, also known as 55P.
How can I watch Leonids?
The best time to view is after midnight. Find a clear spot and keep your eyes on the sky. The meteors appear to come from the constellation Leo, which you can find by looking at the Plow or the Big Dipper. Look for the two stars at the far end of the plow from the handle – these are known as pointer stars because drawing a line from the bottom to the top of the plow will point you to Polaris, the North Star. To find the lion, trace a line in the opposite direction through the indicator stars until you reach the question-mark shaped group of stars that form the lion’s head. That said, you don’t need to look for any particular constellation, as meteors will cross the sky in all directions.
How many meteorites will I see?
The longer you look, the greater your chance of seeing meteors. The estimated peak of the Leonids will bring about 15 meteors per hour. If you’re lucky, you may even see a ball of fire. These are composed of large pieces of debris and appear brighter than normal meteors, remain visible for a slightly longer period of time and often have tails visible behind them.
Can I see Comet Tempel-Tuttle?
While the Leonids occur every year, Comet Tempel-Tuttle will not be visible this year. That’s because it takes about 33 years to orbit the Sun, and most of that time is spent away from Earth. At the time the comet makes its closest approach to Earth, the Leonids become not only a meteor shower, but also known as a meteor storm, with over 1000 meteors an hour. The last Leonid meteor storm occurred in 1996, so we will have to wait until 2029 for the next storm.