A bunch ofNovember has been made a fiery month for meteors. The arrival of the Leonids this week could lead to a meteor storm.
While the Taurids are known for being relatively slow moving because they burn up in the atmosphere and produce lots of fireballs (especially this year), the Leonids are considered fast showers that produce fast, bright shooting stars.
A few times every century, the Leonids bring an intense frenzy of fire across the sky, with hundreds and even thousands of shooting stars visible per hour.
The cause is dust, debris, and detritus from Comet Temple-Tuttle. Every year around this time our planet drifts through clouds of comet debris left over from previous trips through the solar system. It seems that every 33 years we bump into a particular pocket of matter, leading to such a storm. This happened in 2001, which was a bonus since it came two years after the expected storm in 1999.
Stellar 2021 Perseid meteor shower shines in shots around the world
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Although the next Leonid meteor storm from that remnant branch isn’t expected until 2031, these things are unpredictable. According to the American Meteor Society, we are likely to experience another dust storm in 2022, related to the visit of the 1733 comet. It will produce between 50 and 200 meteors per hour during low hours the next morning on November 18.
Again, there are no guarantees as meteor showers are very fickle. But the best conditions can present some of the best nights of sky watching. A regular peak of the Leonids is expected on the evening of November 17 and before the next morning. Expect 10 to 15 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions. If we’re lucky, it’s a night where we might get a burst where those numbers steadily increase.
To experience this view, you must find an area with a wide view of cloudless sky and no light pollution. You can use an app like Stellarium to find the constellation Leo and orient yourself so that Leo’s head is in the center of your view. The Leonid meteors appear to radiate from this point in the sky, hence the name.
You don’t have to orient yourself this way because meteors move across the sky, but it can improve things. It’s probably a little more important to keep the waning moon out of your line of sight so it doesn’t wash out the shooting stars.
After you are oriented and comfortable, just lie down and relax. After adjusting your eyes, if you give the whole experience an hour or so, you should be on your way to seeing at least a few meteors.
Cheers and happy spotting!