Like other meteor showers, the Leonids happen when Earth plows through a trail of debris left in the wake of a comet orbiting the sun, in this case comet Tempel-Tuttle.
While this year’s performance is expected to be dampened somewhat by the partially illuminated moon, there will still be a pretty sky show. Shooting stars will light the sky every few minutes at peak time, from late night Monday, November 17, into the following pre-dawn hours.
Like their namesake, the Leonids are known to be quite temperamental. They have been known on rare occasions, every 33 years or so to flare up into bona fide meteor storms, with hourly rates as high as a few hundred meteors.
During the last big storm in 2002, over 3,000 meteors fell per hour. But the granddaddy and the root of the Leonids mythical status was the1833 storm where counts on one night went as high as 72,000 shooting stars per hour. Talk about a cosmic fireworks show!
While we don’t expect the celestial lion to roar so loudly this year, it is still worth braving the chilly November weather and bundling up to see how the Leonids do perform. Meteor forecasting is still in its infancy, so there is always the chance of an unexpected uptick in numbers.
The Leonid meteor shower has dazzled sky watchers in the past, but even if your view is hampered by bad weather or light pollution, you can still catch the show online via two webcasts airing tonight (Nov. 17) and into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The Slooh Community Observatory will begin its Leonid meteor shower webcast at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT), and a NASA webcast is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. EST (0030 GMT). You can watch both Leonid webcasts on Space.com. “We’re predicting 10 to 15 meteors per hour,” Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said in a blog. “For best viewing, wait until after midnight on Nov. 18, with the peak of the shower occurring just before sunrise.