Leonids meteor shower: When will it be at its peak and all you need to know about one among the fastest moving comet debris

This year, it is expected to peak on the morning of November 17, during the dark hours before dawn


                            Leonids meteor shower: When will it be at its peak and all you need to know about one among the fastest moving comet debris
(Getty Images)

The Leonid meteor showers are currently making their yearly appearance. Active from November 6 to November 30, Leonids are expected to reach their peak from Monday night into Tuesday morning, that is, November 16 to 17. The Leonids are considered to be a major shower, though meteor rates are often as low as about 15 meteors per hour. The Leonids are bright meteors and can also be colorful. They are considered to be some of the fastest meteors out there, traveling at speeds of 44 miles (71 kilometers) per second.

During this year’s showers, peaks of around 10 to 15 meteors are expected to be seen every hour. “If you want to watch the Leonid meteor shower, just know that the hours between midnight and dawn are best for meteor-watching. 2020’s Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak on the morning of November 17, during the dark hours before dawn. In 2020, the moon — in a waxing crescent phase — will set in the early evening, to provide moon-free skies after midnight when the most meteors typically fall. In a dark sky, with no moon, you can see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour at the peak,” notes Earthsky.org. 

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When comets come around the sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits. Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.

The Leonids occur when the Earth passes through the debris left by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which takes 33 years to orbit the Sun once. The comet was discovered twice independently — in 1865 and 1866 by Ernst Tempel and Horace Tuttle, respectively. Tempel-Tuttle is a small comet: its nucleus measures only about 2.24 miles (3.6 kilometers) across. The Leonid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Leo, where its meteors appear to originate.

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids (Getty Images)

Every 33 years, or so, viewers on Earth may experience a Leonid storm that can peak with hundreds to thousands of meteors seen per hour depending on the location of the observer. A meteor storm versus a shower is defined as having at least 1,000 meteors per hour. Viewers in 1966, for example, experienced a spectacular Leonid storm: thousands of meteors per minute fell through Earth’s atmosphere during a 15-minute period. There were so many meteors seen that they appeared to fall like rain. The last Leonid meteor storm took place in 2002. However, no Leonid storm is expected this year.

“The Leonids are best known for producing meteor storms in the years of 1833, 1866, 1966, 1999, and 2001. These outbursts of meteor activity are best seen when the parent object, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, is near perihelion (closest approach to the sun). Unfortunately, it appears that the earth will not encounter any dense clouds of debris until 2099. Therefore, when the comet returns in 2031 and 2064, there will be no meteor storms, but perhaps several good displays of Leonid activity when rates are in excess of 100 per hour,” states the International Meteor Organization (IMO). 

You do not need any special equipment or a lot of skills to view a meteor shower. The best way to see a meteor shower is to get to a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Hence, experts advise that to view the Leonids, one should find an area well away from city or street lights. Be patient: just lie flat on your back, look up at the sky and wait. In less than 30 minutes in the dark, the eyes will adapt and one can begin to see meteors. 

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