Major meteor shower: Leonids peak this weekend


The Leonid meteor shower is a major meteor shower (Class I), running annually from November 5 to December 3. This year, it will reach its maximum rate of activity on the night of November 17 and the morning of November 18.

The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible is around 15 per hour (ZHR). This, however, assumes a perfectly dark sky and that the radiant of the meteor shower is directly overhead. In practice, the number of meteors you are likely to see is lower than this.

The Moon will be 30 days old at the time of peak activity this year and will thus present minimal interference. 

The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the Leonids originate from comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, 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 3.6 km (2.24 miles) across and it takes it 33 years to orbit the Sun once.

Leonids are bright and one of the fastest meteors, traveling at speeds of 71 km/s (44 mps). They can also be very colorful and are known for their fireballs and earthgrazer meteors.

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 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.

The Leonids are best viewed starting at about midnight local time.

Featured image credit: Nate Bolt


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