This year’s Leonids meteor shower peaks on Nov. 17 at 4:30 AM Eastern Time. If forecasters are correct, the shower should produce a mild but pretty sprinkling during the night of the 16th/morning of the 17th. The moon will be a waxing crescent setting before midnight, clearing the way for some unobstructed Leonid viewing. “We’re predicting a normal year of 15 to 20 meteors per hour” says Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Leonids are bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years the comet visits the inner solar system and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake. Many of these streams have drifted across the November portion of Earth’s orbit. Whenever our planet hits one, meteors appear to be flying out of the constellation Leo.
For best meteor viewing Cooke suggests going to a location away from city lights, dressing warmly, and lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special viewing equipment needed — just your eyes.
The Leonids occur each year in mid-November.
Leonid meteor storm of 1999 (NASA)
Leonids meteor shower as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in 2001 (Wally Pacholka/AstroPics.com)