What a fantastic show watching the Leonid Meteor Shower !
The Leonids are visible for much of November with the best nights for viewing this year predicted to be 17 and 20 November.
In terms of numbers, the Leonids do not compare to the Perseids, which reach 100 meteors an hour, but it’s quality not quantity that counts here. Whereas the Perseids can often be faint, the Leonids have a reputation for brightness.
Extremely bright meteors, known as fireballs, are often associated with this shower. These are produced by dust grains about 10 millimetres across burning up in our atmosphere. All meteor showers result from the Earth ploughing through streams of cosmic dust, jettisoned by comets as they orbit the Sun.
The Leonids originate from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered by prolific hunter Ernst Tempel on 19 December 1865. The comet bears a second name because American astronomer Horace Parnell Tuttle independently reported it on 6 January 1866.
Around 5 billion tonnes of dust are estimated to lie in the various streams associated with Tempel-Tuttle. During this month’s meteor storm, some 10-15 tonnes of that will end up in our atmosphere to produce the shooting stars.
Tempel-Tuttle orbits the sun once every 33 years. Every time it completes another orbit, it lays a new dust stream. These go into orbit around the sun, and Earth usually hits a different one every year. Computer simulations can predict their movement and even date the year each was deposited. People can view about 20 meteors an hour at the peak of the Leonids meteor shower.
According to Russian astronomer Mikhail Maslov, although the general peak of all the accumulated dust streams takes place on Saturday 17 November, on Tuesday 20 November Earth will encounter debris that dates from the comet’s passage of 1400.
The Leonids will peak on November 17 and 18 in 2015. A waxing crescent moon means that the sky will be dark enough to easily view the shower. We suggest that observers try their luck after midnight.
Where to view the Leonids – The Leonids can be seen by viewers from both hemispheres. While it is not necessary to look in a particular direction to enjoy a meteor shower – just lie down on the ground and look directly above and you are bound to see some meteors. Astronomers suggest lying down on the ground and looking at the sky between the East and the point right above you to view the Leonids.
When to view the Leonids – The best time to view the Leonids is just after midnight and right before dawn. In 2015, scientists believe that observers in Asia and Middle East will have the best chance of viewing the meteor shower after midnight on November 17. Those in North and South America, Europe and Africa are expected to have a better view of the Leonids on the night of November 18.
Date for your diary – 17th/18th November 2015 to see the next spectacular shower of the The Leonids from Eaglesfield Park (the second highest point in London). Another reason why Eaglesfield Park is so unique.
It would be great to understand more about the mysteries of The Sky at Night – would anyone be willing to share their knowledge?
I understand there are different types of meteor showers at various times of the year. Could The Sky at Night add another dimension to FOEP activities?