Stargazers will need to mark their calendars for the night of November 17.
Although the Leonid meteor shower is visible from November 3–December 2 this year, it will peak in the evening hours of November 17 and into the early hours of the next morning. You can expect to see about 15 meteors per hour traveling at 44 miles per second, according to NASA.
Here’s what’s really fun: The Leonid meteor shower is known for “fireballs and Earth-grazers,” NASA explains. Fireballs are large “explosions of light and color” visible for longer than an average meteor, while Earth-grazers, which have colorful tails, streak low along the horizon.
Why We See Meteors
Essentially, a comet is a giant “dirty snowball” made of frozen gasses with embedded rock and dust particles, NASA explains. Comets, which are about the “size of a small town,” originate outside the orbit of the outermost planets and follow an elliptical orbit around the sun.
As comets orbit the sun, they leave behind what can be considered a trail of debris. Then, every year, when Earth passes through these debris trails in its own orbit around the sun, the debris particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, the particles heat up to temperatures around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit creating streaks across the sky, Space.com explains.
Meteor showers are named for the constellations where they appear to emerge. The Leonid meteor shower gets its name because the meteors appear to come from the constellation Leo the Lion, one of the constellations making up the Zodiac.
The Leonid Meteor Shower
The space dust that creates the Leonid meteor shower when it encounters Earth’s atmosphere is left behind by the periodic comet Tempel-Tuttle, officially known as 55P/Temple-Tuttle.
Interestingly, the comet was discovered twice independently — first by William Tempel at the Marseilles Observatory in France on December 19, 1865, and then again by Horace Tuttle at the Harvard College Observatory a few weeks later on January 5, 1866, Earth Sky explains
Comet Tempel-Tuttle has a nucleus of 2.24 miles. Based on that size, scientists calculate its orbit of the sun takes just over 33 years.
How To Watch The Meteor Shower
The good news is that you don’t need any equipment to see the meteor shower and you don’t even need to know where the constellation Leo the Lion is located in the sky.
Instead, all you need to do is go outside, lie down on your back or recline in a chair, and look up at the sky. After about 30 minutes, your eyes will adjust to the dark, and you will begin to see meteors. Remember to not check your phone or use a flashlight to look at your watch because your eyes will then need to readjust to the dark all over again.
Know Before You Go Outside
If you want to increase your chances of seeing the meteor shower, you’ll want to be somewhere really dark — far away from city lights. A map of dark places that are optimal for stargazing may be found here.
Be sure to also read the rest of our stargazing content, including: