The Leonid meteor shower best viewing this year will be in the hours before dawn on Nov. 17, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.
There is uncertainty on the intensity of this year’s shower. Viewers will definitely see a dozen or more meteors per hour. Some astronomers predict, however, that the rate could be greater than 100. The Moon will not wash out any meteors: It rises after daybreak, and in its almost-new phase will be nearly invisible.
High-resolution images and high-definition video animation of the Leonid meteor shower are available online at StarDate‘s Media Center. There, you can also sign up to receive advanced e-mail notices of future skywatching events.
Leonid meteors appear to fall from the constellation Leo, the lion, but they are not associated with it. They are leftover debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, it leaves a trail of debris. The Leonids meteors recur each year when Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail.
Each time comet Tempel-Tuttle gets closest to the Sun in its orbit, called “perihelion,” it sheds a significant amount of material. This creates clumps along its orbit. If the Earth passes through one of these clumps on Nov. 17, viewers could see hundreds of meteors per hour. If Earth simply passes through the “normal” part of the comet’s debris trail, the number of meteors visible will be much lower.
For the best view, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.
Published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, StarDate magazine provides readers with skywatching tips, skymaps, beautiful astronomical photos, astronomy news and features, and a 32-page Sky Almanac each January.
Established in 1932, The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world’s largest, which will soon be upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment. An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.