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Stay Up Late for the Leonid Meteor Shower

Have you ever seen a shooting star? If not, it is a pretty cool thing to see, and you might have your chance this week. The annual Leonid meteor shower is getting underway, providing skywatchers about a week of increased meteor activity, November 13-21, 2016. The peak of this year’s shower will be Thursday night (November 17) into Friday morning. But, If you want the best chance to see something, you’ll have to stay up very late; the show will not really get going until after midnight. And, since the frequency of sightings increases through the early morning hours and peak before sunrise, it might be a better idea to go to bed early and get up before dawn.

meteor showers RT

Meteor Showers RT via ProQuest eLibrary

Unfortunately, this is not expected to be a great year for the Leonids. The showers happen because Earth travels near trails left by Tempel-Tuttle, a comet that orbits the sun every 33 years. Bits of the comet are pulled by Earth’s gravity into the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour, and the resulting friction causes them to burn as they fall. When our planet travels directly through one of these trails, we get what is known as a meteor storm or meteor outburst. Such storms usually occur in the years following Tempel-Tuttle’s pass, but they can occur in years in between. But, this is not one of those years, and the number of shooting stars is expected to be low. (Too bad it is not 1833 or 1996, years when the Leonid storms were especially spectacular, with thousands of meteors per hour.) In addition, the shower this year will be competing with a waning gibbous moon which will fill the sky with light for most of the night.

All that said, you might still want to give it a shot, especially if you have never seen a meteor. So, where should you look? Meteor showers are named after the place in the sky from which they appear to radiate, in this case, the constellation Leo. In reality, they can appear across the sky and go in many directions. So, the best strategy is just to lie back and take in as much of the sky as possible. Of course, to increase your odds, try to watch from a spot as far away from the glow of the city and other light sources as you can.

If you’d like to learn more about the stuff in the sky, check out the links in the text above, see the Research Topics pages below or do your own searches.

As they say in astronomy circles, clear skies to you!

Astronomy

Astrophysics

Constellations and Star Systems

Galaxies

Meteor Showers

Near-Earth Objects

Solar System

Stars

Telescope

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Jim Zelli

Jim Zelli has been with ProQuest since 1989 and with eLibrary since 2004.
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