We’ve had an amazing time skywatching this year, especially with that awesome eclipse a few months ago. And now the Universe is delivering again, with the Leonid meteor shower peaking on 17-18 November.
The shower is viewable from most places in the world, and this year the viewing conditions will be especially good as there’s no moonlight washing out the sky – so keen viewers can expect to see around 10-15 meteors per hour early on Friday and Saturday morning.
So what is the Leonid meteor shower and why should you care? The shower occurs when Earth moves through the dust trailing behind the comet Tempel-Tuttle, and small pieces of debris – roughly around the size of a pea – burn up in our atmosphere.
That may not sound as impressive as the large chunks of debris that produce fireballs during the Taurid meteor shower happening around this time every year, but these little meteors are still going to put on a beautiful show.
Impressively, the Leonid is also the fastest meteor shower that we encounter here on Earth, with fragments of space dust hitting our atmosphere at an incredible 254,276 km/h (158,000 mph).
In the past, the Leonid meteor shower has been known to produce meteor storms, with unprecedented numbers of comets streaking through the sky. Back in 1966, this produced an incredible show, with people in the US’s southwest reporting seeing up to 3,000 meteors per minute.
But these meteor storms only happen roughly every 33 years – the same amount of time it takes for the comet to complete an orbit around the Sun – and isn’t predicted again until around 2032.
For those lucky enough to be unaffected by clouds, you’re going to have a pretty great view, because there’s a new Moon coming on Saturday, leaving the skies pretty dark.
Still, your best chance to watch will be to get out of the city and away from streetlights and shops. The Leonids will appear to be coming from the east (from the Leo constellation) but they should streak across the whole sky.
For the rest of us, don’t worry, you don’t have to miss out. Slooh has been kind enough to set up a livestream of the event, so with free registration you can watch no matter where in the world you are.