Usually the upcoming Leonid meteors are more a sprinkle than a bonafide shower, but this year’s performance promises to be much better than usual. In fact astronomers predict that during early morning hours this Tuesday, November 17th skywatchers will be treated to an outburst of 30 to 50 shooting stars per hour.
The reason for this outburst is because Earth is brushing past a huge 100,000 km wide debris cloud left behind by the Leonids parent comet, Temple Tuttle. Every 33 years this 2 km wide icy visitor makes a run into the inner solar system shedding tons of dust off its icy surface as it melts due to the heat of the Sun. The monster debris cloud we are hitting this year was deposited back in 1464 and 1533. The best seats in the house however, will be for observers in Asia and South Pacific where they may see upwards of 300 meteors per hour – but this main peak will unfortunately be happening during daylight hours here in North America on November 17th during late afternoon.
Regardless of where you are in the world, Leonids make for a pretty show, particularly from a dark location. Best time to look for them is from 1 am til dawn on Tuesday looking towards the eastern sky. They are named after the Leo, the lion constellation, where they appear to all originate from. As a bonus, if you look carefully you will notice a ruddy colored star just above Leo – that is the Red planet Mars. It almost appears as if the shooting stars are all coming from the direction of Mars. Also, because the Leonids are basically travelling towards us when Earth smashes into them, they tend to be the fastest meteors on record traveling through our atmosphere, with speeds of up to 210,000 km per hour!
For more on the Leonids check out my National Geographic story.
Editor’s Note: Check out my new ‘Night Sky’ episode as seen on The Weather Network yesterday. Just click on the video on the left sidebar. to enlarge it just double click inside the video.
Tags: Leonids, meteor shower
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