The Leonid meteor shower is peaking tonight around 2am, November 17, 2012. The Leonids will remain highly visible throughout the weekend though, so you can catch them any night so long as it’s dark enough.
The Leonids meteor shower occurs annually around mid-November, as the Earth moves through a stream of debris that was left behind by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet follows a 33-year-orbit around the sun, and the meteor shower that is associated with it appears to radiate out of the constellation of the lion, Leo.
The sky map shown above should give you a clear idea of where in the sky to observe them this year.
“We’re predicting 20-30 meteors per hour over the Americas, and as many as 200-300 per hour over Asia,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office the Marshall center said in a statement. “Our forecast is in good accord with independent theoretical work by other astronomers.”
“This year, the peak of the meteor shower will occur in the wee hours of Saturday November 17th, but meteors from the display should still be visible in the night before and after the peak. Because the moon is nearing its new phase, and will have set before the actual peak of the shower, the 2012 Leonids could impressive, NASA officials said.”
“The new moon will set the stage for what could be one of the best Leonid showers in years,” they explained in a stargazing alert.
Here’s some basic advice on how to enjoy a meteor-watching experience:
One: Get in a comfortable position, a reclining lawn chair and some blankets are good ideas.
Two: Dress warmly, and maybe bring something warm to drink.
Three: Get out of the city if you can, the light pollution from city lights greatly diminishes the number and intensity of of the meteors that you can see. A clear, dark sky is what you want.
There is also another major meteor shower coming up in December. The annual Geminids peaking on December 13 and 14 are reliably one of the best meteor showers of the year. They’re the remnants of the comet 3200 Phaethon.
Some background on the Leonids:
“The Leonids is a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids get their name from the location of their radiant in the constellation Leo: the meteors appear to radiate from that point in the sky. Their proper Greek name should be Leontids, but the word was initially constructed as a Greek/Latin hybrid and it is being used since. They peak in November.”
“Earth moves through the meteoroid stream of particles left from the passages of a comet. The stream comprises solid particles, known as meteoroids, ejected by the comet as its frozen gases evaporate under the heat of the Sun when it is close enough – typically closer than Jupiter’s orbit. The Leonids are a fast moving stream which encounter the path of Earth and impact at 72 km/s. Larger Leonids which are about 10 mm across have a mass of half a gram and are known for generating bright (apparent magnitude -1.5) meteors. An annual Leonid shower may deposit 12 or 13 tons of particles across the entire planet.”
Image Credits: NASA/MSFC; Stardate.org; Leonids 1833 via Wikimedia Commons