According to NASA, the Leonids are some of the fastest meteors, traveling at speeds of 44 miles per second. Every year in November, these meteors fall towards the Earth after breaking off from a comet called Tempel-Tuttle. This year’s Leoninds Meteor Shower is set to peak on Wednesday night (November 17 to 18), with up to 15 shooting stars each hour until Thursday dawn.
Meteors, or shooting stars, come from leftover comet particles and bits of broken asteroids. When comets travel around the Sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into dusty trails around their orbits, and while the Earth passes through these debris trails, they disintegrate while colliding with our planet’s atmosphere, creating fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.
The Leonids acquired their name due to the path they take through the sky, appearing to originate in the Leo constellation. They are debris from the small Tempel-Tuttle comet, whose nucleus measures only 2.24 miles – approximately the same size as the island of Manhattan.
Every 33 years or so, viewers from Earth can experience a massive Leonid “storm,” with thousands of meteors falling each minute through our planet’s atmosphere during a 15 minutes period.
“Viewers in 1966 experienced a spectacular Leonid storm – thousands of meteors per minute fell through Earth’s atmosphere during a 15 minute period,” NASA reported. “There were so many meteors seen that they appeared to fall like rain. The last Leonid meteor storm took place in 2002.”
Although next week’s Leonid shower will not be so spectacular as those from 1966 and 2002, it will nonetheless be a beautiful event, definitely worthwhile to see. According to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, meteor showers are best seen on nights without clouds, from a place with an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution. There is no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope while watching a meteor shower: the shooting stars will be clearly visible by naked eye if the sky is not cloudy.
According to meteorologists, the best time to see the Leonid shower next week will be in the early hours of Thursday, November 18, when the Leo constellation is up in the sky.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer