November 14, 2015 6:47 pm
This year, the Leonid Meteor Shower is expected to peak early during the early morning hours of November 17th and November 18th. A waxing moon means moonlight won’t drown out the meteors, but of course they’re predicting clouds here in the Northeast and storm across most of the rest of the country. (Damn you, weather gods! Oh wait, there are no weather gods. Damn you, weather…channel?)
The Leonid Meteor Shower happens each year when we pass through the debris left by the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. According to NASA, the earliest account of the Leonids was in “902 AD, [when] Chinese astronomers and observers in what is now Egypt and Italy reported seeing the first Leonid storm.” You can read about more Leonid sightings throughout history here.
Speaking of historic Leonid sightings, here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson with great story about Abraham Lincoln, the Leonid Meteor Storm of 1833, and a preacher warning that “the end is near.”
When to see the Leonids and where to look
There’s no storm expected this year, so we’re expecting about 10-15 meteors per hour near peak before dawn.
According to this comprehensive Leonid Viewing Guide guide on Earthsky.org, the best time is between midnight and dawn, the night of November 16 into the morning of November 17, and then again the same time November 17-18.
However, according to this info-filled article on Universe Today, the best time will be at 11pm EST November 17, even though they also say in general the Leonids spike in activity before dawn.
The Leonids radiate from the constellation Leo. But, according to Earthsky.org, you don’t need to look there to see the meteors. In fact, “meteors often don’t become visible until they are 30 degrees or so from their radiant point… Thus the Leonid meteors – like meteors in all annual showers – will appear in all parts of the sky.”
If you do turn your gaze towards, Leo, keep an eye out for Jupiter also, which will be visible below the constellation after midnight.
And of course, for the best viewing results, find the darkest area you can for stargazing, as far from light polluted skies as possible.
That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
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