Lookout for the Leonids!
Every year around mid-November astronomers around the globe turn their attention to the annual Leonid meteor shower. This shower returns to our skies overnight on 17 Nov and is the result of the Earth sweeping up debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun.
Unfortunately, this years shower looks set to be one of the less impressive displays. Previous years have shown storm level activity with hundreds of meteors visible per hour at peak although we are only treated to this every 33 years (next due around 2028). Sadly we can only expect around 20 meteors per hour this year with the light of the Moon also blotting out some of the fainter ones.
Like all meteor showers they are named after the constellation they seem to come from and in the case of the Leonids, seem to come from the constellation Leo. That said, its best to look a little away from the constellation they come from to maximise your chances of seeing them. Its worth noting that meteor showers are notoriously hard to predict so its worth keeping your eye out overnight tonight (17th) and tomorrow night too to catch the peak. Don’t worry if you do miss it though as meteors from the Leonids can be seen for a few weeks either side of the peak.
Its always difficult to know just where to look to catch meteors which are a little bit like lightening displays, you never know when or where the next will be. Your best approach is to wrap up warm, get outside after your local midnight, make yourself comfortable, lay back on a sunbed and look skyward away from the Moon.
If you are lucky enough to have clear skies then you should be able to spot a few meteors. The meteor’s from the Leonids tend to be amongst the fastest of meteors, hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at around 72km per second so they will produce a pretty fast streak in the sky. Happy hunting.