The annual “Leonids” meteor shower takes place next week over the period Tuesday 17th to Wednesday 18th November.
What is it?
This shower of meteors (often wrongly called “shooting stars”) occurs every year. It happens when the Earth on its orbit about the Sun, passes through dust and rock remnants, left behind in the past by the comet Tempel-Tuttle.
The brief, bright streaks of light we may see in the night sky, result when this material burns in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Why is this shower called the “Leonids”?
Because the meteor trails APPEAR to originate in the constellation of Leo (the Lion), if you trace back an imaginary straight line across the sky.. (But note, they have no true connection with the stars we see in the constellation, which are MUCH further away)
This apparent origin is illustrated by the sky map below. It shows the position of Leo and the meteor shower radiant point, rising above the Eastern horizon at 1.00UT during the night of 17 – 18 November.
Leonids Radiant Rising In East, 1.00 UT, 18 Nov, Lat 51 N, Long 0 E (click for larger)
Is it worth looking this year?
It should be – the conditions are extremely favorable.
With the new Moon on 16th November, there will be scarcely any moonlight to disrupt observation of meteors.
Also, some meteor specialists have suggested there may be a strong, even “storm force” shower this year, such as occured in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
When exactly should you look for meteors?
Various specialists use models to try to predict exactly when the shower peaks (both minor peaks and major peaks) will occur. But these are only predictions, so it should be worth looking over the 17th – 18th period.
It will be best to look when the radiant point (see map above) is above your local horizon. The further South you are, the earlier in the night Leo will rise above your local East horizon.
Wrap-up warmly if you are spending time outdoors and good luck!