Leonid meteor shower to light up skies with 15 shooting stars per hour

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·2 min read
The Milky Way during the Leonid meteor shower in the night sky with the mist on hill, Long Exposure, Lampang Thailand.
The Leonid meteor shower in the night sky with the mist on hill, Long Exposure, Thailand (Getty)

The annual Leonid meteor shower is set to peak overnight on the 16th-17th November, according to experts at Royal Museums Greenwich.

The best time to see the meteors is between midnight and dawn.

The Leonids are known for spectacular ‘meteor storms’ which see thousands of meteors blazing across the sky, caused by debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

But this year it is set to be a more subdued display.

You’ll be able to see meteors on the night of the 17th as well, as particles from the comet rain into our atmosphere.

This year is set to be a fairly civilised affair, with a mere 15 per hour, as the Earth moves through the debris stream of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

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Royal Museums Greenwich writes in a blog post, ‘As the comet follows its path around the sun, it leaves a path of tiny debris.

‘The cometary debris enters our planet’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 70 kilometres (43 miles) per second, vaporising and causing the streaks of light we call meteors.’

The Leonids appear to come from the constellation Leo, hence the name.

This Bright Leonid Fireball Is Shown During The Storm Of 1966 In The Sky Above Wrightwood, Calif. The Leonids Occur Every Year On Or About Nov. 18Th And Stargazers Are Tempted With A Drizzle Of 10 Or 20 Meteors Fizzing Across The Horizon Every Hour. But Every 33 Years A Rare And Dazzling Leonids Storm Can Occur But, Astronomers Believe The 1999 Edition Of The Leonids Probably Won'T Equal 1966, Which Peaked At 144,000 Meteors Per Hour. (Courtesy Of  (Photo By Nasa/Getty Images)
Bright Leonid fireball during the meteor storm of 1966 (Photo By Nasa/Getty Images)

To see them, pick a vantage point with very light light pollution and allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become used to the dark.

Bill Cooke of NASA said in a guide to watching the Leonids, ‘Go outside, find a dark sky, lie flat on your back and look straight up, and be prepared to spend a couple of hours outside.’

The displays from the Leonid meteor shower are better when the Tempel-Tuttle comet is closest to Earth.

In 2009, the shower delivered 500 shooting stars every hour, and the next intense shower is predicted in 13 years time.

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NASA says, ‘Every 33 years, or so, the Leonids meteor shower becomes a meteor storm. A meteor storm, versus a shower, is defined as having at least 1,000 meteors per hour.

Viewers in 1966 experienced a spectacular Leonid storm: thousands of meteors per minute fell through Earth's atmosphere during a 15 minute period. There were so many meteors seen that they appeared to fall like rain. The last Leonid meteor storm took place in 2002.

Watch: Leonid meteor shower will light up night sky