Science

The Leonid meteor shower peaks this week with a possible outburst of shooting stars

The Leonid meteor shower peaks this week with a possible outburst of shooting stars

The Leonid meteor shower peaks this week with a possible outburst of shooting stars

Swarm of fireballs from the Taurid meteor shower has already made November a fiery month for meteors. The arrival of the Leonids this week could bring a full blown meteor storm.

While the Taurids are known for traveling relatively slowly as they burn up in the atmosphere and produce numerous fireballs (especially this year), the Leonids are considered a fast shower, producing fast, bright shooting stars.

Several times every century, the Leonids deliver an absolute frenzy of fire in the sky, with hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars visible per hour.

The cause is pieces of dust, debris and detritus from comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every year around this time, our planet floats through clouds of cometary droppings left over from previous trips through the solar system. And about every 33 years we seem to hit a particularly dense pocket of matter, resulting in such a storm. This most recently happened in 2001, which was a small bonus since it happened just two years after the expected 1999 storm.

While the next Leonid meteor storm from that debris branch isn’t expected until 2031, these things are unpredictable. According to American Meteorological Society, there’s a chance we’ll encounter a different dust field in 2022 associated with the 1733 comet visit. This could produce between 50 and more than 200 meteors per hour in the waning hours from November 18 through the next morning.

Again, there are no guarantees for any of this as meteor showers are extremely erratic. But the best-case scenario could be a few extraordinary nights of sky-watching. The regular peak of the Leonids is expected in the late evening hours of November 17 in the predawn hours of the following morning. Expect 10 to 15 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions. We could get an outburst the next night where those numbers increase by an order of magnitude, if we’re lucky.

To experience the spectacle, you’ll want to find an area with a wide view of a cloud-free sky and no light pollution. You can find the Leo constellation using an app like Stellarium and orient yourself so that Leo’s head is in the center of your field of vision. The Leonid meteors seem to radiate from this point in the sky, hence the name.

It’s not imperative that you orient yourself this way, as the meteors will be passing all over the sky, but it might improve things. It’s probably a little more important to keep the waning moon out of your line of sight so it doesn’t wash out any shooting stars.

Once you’re oriented and comfortable, just sit back and relax. After your eyes adjust, you should be on your way to seeing at least a few meteors if you give the whole experience a full hour or more.

Good luck and happy spotting!



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