The Leonids are a faint but bright meteor shower that can still cause storms from time to time. In 2022, they will peak overnight from Thursday, November 17 to Friday, November 18 and are best visible in the northern hemisphere.
The moon will be fairly bright near full moon, so wait until it sets below the horizon for the best view as the Leonids peak.
WHAT CAUSES METEOR SHOWERS?
The Leonids occur when Earth collides with a dust stream in space, similar to other meteor showers. The dust is left behind by comets (icy snowballs) or asteroids (space rocks) that detach as the Sun’s gravity pulls on them.
When the dust hits Earth’s atmosphere, it leaves a harmless trail high up because it’s rushing in at such high speeds. The shooting stars or meteors are visible from the ground and depending on the type of meteor shower, you can catch a great show.
Since comets and asteroids existed early in the solar system’s history, meteor showers remind us that our solar system has always been a zone of change. Earth is a relatively stable environment in an otherwise rather difficult universe, as far as we can tell.
How old is the Leonids meteor shower?
It appears that the first reliable observations of the Leonids meteor shower occurred in the 18th century, specifically in connection with an 1833 event that some now refer to as the meteorite “storm.” The Library of Congress reports that some observers saw between 50,000 and 150,000 meteors every hour. In comparison, a more typical Leonid year might see 15 meteors per hour.
The original space body for the meteor shower is Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the Earth every 33 years; The year it is closest to Earth is when we have the highest chance of a meteor storm.
According to NASA, Comet Tempel-Tuttle was discovered twice independently, in 1865 and 1866 by Ernst Tempel and Horace Tuttle, respectively. The closest approach to Earth is scheduled for 2031.
WHERE TO SEE THE LEONIDS METEOR SHOWER
The Leonids appear to originate from a point in the constellation of Leo. You can use the two pointer stars on the edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper, an asterism in the Ursa Major constellation. (All of these names refer to International Astronomical Union designations for the area, by the way, but your culture may have other nicknames.)
Just follow the two stars in the Big Dipper in the opposite direction to Polaris, the North Star, and you should find Leo. But don’t worry too much about finding the bright. In fact, the longer and brighter meteor trails will be some distance from Leo, so look there as a priority.
For the best chance of spotting meteors, head outside at 2 a.m. local time, as far away from light pollution as possible. Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness, and have some paper or paper handy to keep above your flashlight or phone just in case you want to consult a star chart. The red preserves your night vision.
Bring a lounge chair and some warm clothing, and be patient as you should see a meteor every few minutes on average. The Leonids are worth the wait as they can produce bright, streaking meteors.
LEONID METEOR SHOWER 2022 PREDICTION
The Leonids should average 15 meteors per hour in 2022, as long as you’re not in conditions where moonlight is washing the sky. NASA says the meteors you can see often look pretty bright.
“The Leonids are bright meteors and can also be colorful,” writes NASA. “They’re fast too: Leonids travel at speeds of 44 miles (71 kilometers) per second and are considered some of the fastest meteors out there.”
WHEN IS THE NEXT METEOR SHOWER FOR 2022?
The next meteor shower will be the Geminids, peaking overnight starting Tuesday, December 13th.
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