What is it, when is it and where can I see the Leonid meteor shower this year?


The Leonid meteor shower will peak 17- 18 November between midnight and dawn


What is the Leonid meteor shower?

The Leonids are usually one of the more prolific annual meteor showers, with fast, bright meteors associated with Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The radiant (the point where the meteors seem to stream from) is at the head or 'sickle' of the constellation Leo the Lion, hence the name.

As the comet follows its path around the sun, it leaves a path of tiny debris. The cometary debris enters our planet’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per second, vaporising and causing the streaks of light we call meteors.

Find out the difference between an asteroid, a comet, a meteor, and a meteorite.



When is the Leonid meteor shower?

SHOWER NAME

DATE OF MAXIMUM

NORMAL LIMITS

PEAK RATE/HOUR

DESCRIPTION

Leonids

Nov 17-18

Nov 15-20

10-20

Fast bright meteors with fine trains. Associated with Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The UK can expect to see about half the peak rate number as some will be below the horizon.

 

Find out more about other meteors and meteorites around the year

How can I watch the Leonid meteor shower?

Hunting for meteors, like the rest of astronomy, is a waiting game, so it's best to bring a comfy chair to sit on and to wrap up warm as you could be outside for a while. They can be seen with the naked eye so there's no need for binoculars or a telescope, though you will need to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. This year, the peak of the Leonids coincides with a new Moon, meaning you will have the best possible chance to see this shower. However, if you miss the peak, the shower continues at a reduced rate for several days either side, so there should be plenty of chances to see the display.

Where is best to watch the Leonid meteor shower?

For the best conditions, you want to find a safe location away from street lights and other sources of light pollution. The meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky, so it’s good to be in a wide open space where you can scan the night sky with your eyes. But if you trace the paths that the meteors take, they seem to originate from the constellation of Leo.

If you manage to get any pictures of the Leonid meteor shower then we'd love to see them. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter

Meteor storms

About every 33 years (the period of Comet Tempel-Tuttle), the Leonids produce meteor 'storms' when hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars can be seen. Such storms were seen in 1799, 1833, 1866, 1966 and 1999-2001 (although the expected 1899 and 1933 storms were disappointing). The 1833 storm was particularly spectacular, with an estimated 100,000 meteors per hour. The 1999-2001 storms produced about 3000 per hour.

Leonid facts

Image of Leo constellation

  • If you trace the path that the meteors take, they seem to originate from a point in the constellation of Leo - hence the name.
  • The beautiful streaks we see in the night sky can actually be caused by particles as small as a grain of sand!
  • The cometary debris enters our planet’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per second.