Change your Saturday night plans! The Leonid meteor shower is going to peak this weekend so be ready to find a dark spot away from city lights to enjoy this stellar spectacle.
The Leonids is considered one of the most prolific meteor showers for historical reasons. The general public's interest in meteors is actually due to these meteors. In 1833, the Leonids underwent a spectacular outburst with over 200,000 meteors per hour for almost four hours. This year, unfortunately, won’t be like that. Astronomers expect up to 15 meteors per hour to be visible to observers.
The Leonid shower originates from fragments of the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 33 years. Its last close passage to our planet was in 1998, so the Earth’s orbit is currently within the least dense part of the comet's trail of particles.
The name of these meteors, Leonids, comes from the constellation of Leo (the lion), where they appear to originate from, but you don’t need to find the constellation to be able to spot them. Wherever you look in the sky, you should be able to see some. The longer-tailed ones will actually be more visible in other directions.
But if you want to be prepared, the best time is from 11pm onwards on Saturday, November 17, in an easterly direction. The shower will be visible from both hemispheres starting in the northeast and moving towards the southeast and the zenith (the highest point in the sky) as the night progresses. In the US, the view will be best from the western and southeastern parts of the country.
When going meteor hunting it is important to take your time and let your eyes adjust to the low luminosity. So tuck your phone in your pocket and give yourself 15-20 minutes to get used to the dark. And remember that this year the shower is not an outburst, so you’ll have to be patient. Maybe bring a comfy camp chair. And blankets if you’re somewhere that’s going to get cold.
And if this weekend is not good weatherwise, remember that you can continue to catch the meteor shower until the end of November. Or be patient and prepare for the Geminids next month.