19Nov2017

Leonid Meteor Shower Set To Sparkle Our Skies

Leonid meteors seen from 39,000 feet aboard an aircraft during the 1999 Leonids Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign (Leonid-MAC). Comet Tempel-Tuttle provides the cometary debris for the Leonid meteor storm, which takes place in mid-November. Credit: NASA/ISAS/Shinsuke Abe and Hajime Yano

Are you ready for a good, predictable meteor shower? Then break out your favourite sky-watching gear because the 2017 Leonid meteor shower is already sparkling the skies with ‘shooting stars’ already appearing…and the odd fireball!In the pre-dawn hours on the mornings of November 16-21st, the offspring of Comet Temple/Tuttle will be flashing through our atmosphere at speeds of up to 72 kilometres per second – and enticing you to test your meteor watching skills against partially moonlit skies.  The Moon sets a few hours before midnight and shouldn’t interfere with fainter meteor trails. That shouldn’t stop you from enjoying earlier evening observations, or enjoying your after dinner coffee with a handful of “shooting stars” which will be emanating outward from the constellation of Leo.

A Matter Of Timing

Where in the skies do you look? For all observers the constellation of Leo is along the ecliptic plane and will be near its peak height during best viewing times. Just look eastward. When? Because of the Moon, later evening observations are favoured (about local midnight), but just a couple of hours before local dawn is the best time to watch. Why? Read on!

Although it has been a couple of years since Temple/Tuttle was at perihelion, don’t forget that meteor showers are wonderfully unpredictable and the Leonids are sure to please with fall rate of around 20 (average) per hour. Who knows what surprises it may bring! Each time the comet swings around our Sun it loses some of its material in the debris trail. Of course, we all know that is the source of a meteor shower, but what we don’t know is just how much debris was shed and where it may lay.

Historical Numbers

As our Earth passes through the dusty matter, it may encounter a place where the comet let loose with a large amount of its payload – or it may pass through an area where the “comet stuff” is thin. We might even pass through an area which produces an exciting “meteor storm” like the Leonids produced in 1883! For those in the know, the Leonid meteor shower also made a rather incredible appearance in 1866 and 1867 – dumping up to 1000 (not a typo, folks) shooting stars recorded even with a Moon present! It erupted again in 1966 and in 1998 and produced 3000 (yep. 3000!) video recorded meteors during the years of 2001 and 2002. But remember, human eyes may only be able to detect just a few. So what’s a realistic guess?

A Dozen Or Two

We could see rates of about 15-20 meteors per hour.  Instead of just going out one night, you might want to go out twice.” (Originally supplied with info by Tammy Plotner)

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