CHICAGO – Known as some of the fastest meteors around, the Leonids sparkle in the night sky annually during the month of November. Historically, they’re considered some of the most impressive meteor showers ever recorded, largely because of the meteor storm they form about every 33 years, causing thousands of meteors to rain down in the night sky.
This isn’t a stormy year, but there are still plenty of opportunities to see the brilliant Leonids. On Thursday night, the shower is expected to peak at 6 p.m. CT, according to EarthSky. The celestial event will be visible to everyone on the night side of the world at that time.
The Leonid meteor shower is active until December 2, along with the end of the tail of the meteor shower in northern Taurid. Around its peak, sky detectives will likely spot 10 to 15 meteors per hour. Meteorites move in the opposite direction of Earth’s rotation, causing an almost direct collision with the atmosphere when they intersect. Space rocks are often recorded shooting through the sky at 44 miles per second (71 kilometers per second) — some of the fastest meteors to result from one of the major annual meteor showers, according to Robert Lunsford, fireball report coordinator for the American Meteorite Society. .
Lunsford said that brighter meteors often leave behind glowing trails and can even leave smoke streaks in the sky for up to several minutes.
The Leonids are also known for hitting fireballs, which are meteors so large they shine brighter than Venus, and grazing Earth, which are meteors that come close to the horizon and are known for their long, colorful tails, according to NASA.
“They are the fastest meteorites produced among the major annual meteor showers, and they have a certain look to them, like lances, very long and sharp,” Lunsford said. “They’re very impressive, especially the flashy ones, which is why they’re probably among my favorites.”
The forecast for Thursday, around the time of this peak, will be mostly clear skies over the US coasts (New York City and Los Angeles) with a 0% chance of rain, according to Alison Chenchar, a CNN meteorologist. Residents of the Midwest (Chicago) will have less favorable sky-viewing conditions, with overcast skies and a 30% chance of snow.
The best time to stay out looking for a meteorite is Thursday evening through Friday morning, but the meteorite community has speculated that Earth may also be passing through an intense stream of debris left behind in 1733 from Leonids’ comet, Temple-Tuttle. .
If this happens, for a short period of time on Saturday morning around 1 a.m. ET, there could be as many as 250 meteors visible per hour, according to Lunsford. If you’re on Earth’s night side during this time, you could spot a meteor, but it’s best to keep an eye on the eastern horizon to increase your chances. (Those on the US West Coast will have a shorter window to see this explosion, because Leo, the constellation from which the meteors appear, will still be below the horizon.)
“We went back hundreds of years – because the comet passes through the inner solar system maybe every 33 years – so every one of these trajectories has been plotted,” Lunsford said. “We can pretty much tell the time and date, but we have no idea what the particle density is. So, it could be exciting, or it could be worthless.”
The meteorite community recommends getting out at least 30 minutes before the peak shower, to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Since the Moon will rise near the same time as the radiant constellation, it is best to look in a direction away from its light.
“Anyone can contribute scientifically useful information by making some notes on these meteors. … You can go out and count how many you can see.” Lunsford said.
“It’s fun, it’s cheap, and it’s a good way for families to get together. If your skies are clear at that time, I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Other space events this year
There are only two more meteor showers you can see before the end of the year, according to EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide. Here’s when they peak:
-December 14: Geminids
-December 22: Ursids
There is one more full moon on the The Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar for 2022: Check out the cold moon on December 7.