Colorful shooting stars will soon streak across the night sky during one of the most famous annual meteor displays. The Leonids meteor shower is expected to peak Sunday night into Monday morning, November 17-18.
What are the Leonids?
The Leonid meteor shower occurs every year when Earth passes through a cloud of debris left behind by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. As the debris collides with the atmosphere, it creates shooting stars.
The Leonids get their name from the constellation Leo — the meteors appear to radiate from that point in the sky. They are active for most of November, but will only become clearly visible when they peak this weekend.
According to NASA, stargazers can expect peaks of around 15 meteors per hour this year. Leonids are typically bright and colorful shooting stars, with a speed of 44 miles per second that creates persistent trails across the sky.
Every 33 years, the Leonids produce a meteor storm as the comet makes its closest pass to the sun, caused by particularly dense debris, that produces more than 1,000 meteors per hour. Another one isn't expected until 2031.
"The great Leonid meteor storm of 1833 did more to spawn the study of meteors than any other single event," the American Meteor Society said.
A burst of 1999 Leonid meteors as seen at 38,000 feet from Leonid Multi Instrument Aircraft Campaign (Leonid MAC) with 50 mm camera. NASA/Ames Research Center/ISAS/Shinsuke Abe and Hajime Yano When and where to watch the Leonids
In order to view a meteor shower, escape the bright lights of your city and go to a location with a clear view of the night sky. They won't fully come into view until after midnight, according to NASA, as the meteors collide with the atmosphere head-on.
Face east, lie flat on your back and look up, allowing your eyes about thirty minutes to adjust to the darkness. Keep an eye out for fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and color that can last longer than average shooting stars. The show will last until dawn.
Due to the nature of their orbit, Leonids enter Earth's atmosphere at the fastest meteor velocities possible. So, despite the relatively mild predictions for this year's shower, stargazers should still be able to see the long-lasting green streaks left in their wake.
Unfortunately, the moon will be 80% full during the shower's peak, so visibility will be difficult. The best views will come from blocking the moon from your field of vision.
If you can't get a clear view of the shower from your location, there is usually a meteor livestream hosted by NASA that can be watched from the comfort of your bed.
After the Leonids, the next meteor shower to watch out for is the Geminids, which will peak this year on the night of December 13.