Be Prepared for the Leonids Meteor Shower!

Every year, skywatchers eagerly anticipate the arrival of the Leonid meteor shower, one of the most famous and mesmerizing celestial events. This year, the Leonids are predicted to reach their peak on the morning of November 18th at around 06:00 UT. Under favorable conditions, you can expect to see an impressive display of 10 to 15 meteors per hour.

The Leonids are known for their incredible speed, hurtling through Earth’s upper atmosphere at a staggering rate of approximately 71 kilometers per second. These swift meteors often leave behind vivid trails or trains across the sky, captivating observers with their beauty. Luckily, the Moon, which will be a waxing crescent, sets at 7pm, ensuring that its glow won’t interfere with the show.

Meteor showers occur when Earth encounters the orbital stream of tiny particles known as meteoroids. These particles, also referred to as meteoroids while in space, plunge into Earth’s upper atmosphere and create the mesmerizing streaks of light we call meteors. The Leonids’ parent comet is 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which makes its way back to the inner Solar System every 33 years. As the Sun warms the comet’s icy surface, it releases gases and dust, replenishing the supply of material for the Leonid meteor shower.

In recent years, the Leonids have produced only modest rates of shooting stars. However, this shower has a history of providing unforgettable observing events tied to the return of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. In 1833, an astonishing 100,000 meteors per hour were witnessed during an extraordinary event. Between 1866 and 1868, during the comet’s subsequent return, yearly storms were experienced, most famously in 1866. More recently, the storms of 1966, 1999, and 2001 (related to 55P/Tempel-Tuttle’s last perihelion passage in February 1998) have left a lasting impression on our collective memory. The comet’s next return is expected in May 2031, with rates of meteors anticipated to increase from 2027 onwards.

Each meteor shower appears to originate from a specific point in the sky known as the radiant. The Leonids’ radiant lies within the constellation Leo, specifically in its famous ‘Sickle’ asterism. By 1am, the radiant will be well clear of the eastern horizon, making it easier to spot the meteors emanating from this point.

The enchantment of the Leonid meteor shower continues to captivate sky enthusiasts year after year. As we prepare for this year’s peak on November 18th, let us embrace the natural wonders of our universe and revel in the breathtaking display of shooting stars.