Leonids meteor shower visible across tonight’s sky 

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Tonight the sky will be lit with the annual Leonid meteor shower. It is expected that peak viewing times will be late Nov. 16 and on Wednesday, Nov. 17. The best time to catch the sky spectacle is before dawn on Wednesday after the moon has set.

This may be the best skywatching event since the Perseid meteor shower in August.

The Leonids annual shooting stars

The Leonids received their name because they appear to be traveling from the constellation Leo the Lion from East-to-West across the sky.

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Meteor showers aka “shooting stars,” are actually comet dust, rock, and debris that fall off a comet. The comet sheds its particles which ignite when they enter the atmosphere of the Earth. The shooting stars from the Leonids come from the Tempel-Tuttle comet as it swings by the Earth. At the same time, the Earth’s orbit takes it through the trail of comet dust.

2021 Leonids meteor shower

According to EarthSky.org many amazing meteor showers have been seen during the annual Leonids. In some years, viewers saw a literal meteor storm. During 1833’s Leonids it is estimated that as many as 100,000 meteors per hour lit up the sky.

Astronomers and scientists don’t expect 2021’s meteor showers to equal the event that happened in 1833.  Today we have a waxing gibbous moon.  During a waxing period, the moon is getting visually wider and wider from day-to-day. And eventually, it becomes a full moon. The widening light will make the meteors harder to see. And they will appear fainter.

In the best of conditions, you can expect to see 10 to 15 meteors during the peak of the meteor showers.

Keep in mind that the Leonids are also fast-moving. They travel at 44 miles per second and are considered to be some of the fastest meteors that can be seen from Earth.

Here are some meteor shower viewing tips, courtesy of the NASA Skywatching website.

  • Watch the light show in an area away from city or street lights.
  • Consider the weather. Take a sleeping bag or blanket along with you.IF it’s too cold to lie on the ground take a lawn chair that reclines.
  • The best way to view the Leonids is lying down. When you look up you can see most of the night sky. Orient yourself, feet facing toward the East.
  • Remember that it takes time for the human eye to adjust to the dark. Expect to be out for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Once you are comfortable in your viewing area, be patient. The meteor show will last until sunrise.