Set your alarm to get up early – the Leonid meteor shower is on its way! Or rather, we’re on our way to it!
This meteor shower is named after the constellation of Leo, because it’s where the meteors seem to appear from. These “shooting stars” appear from 14-21 November and peak on the 17th but, you’ll need to get up early. They are seen from around 3am until just before dawn low in the northeast below the bright star Regulus.
We see meteor showers because Earth is moving through the orbital path of a comet, in this case, Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The meteors we see are bits of debris, broken off from the comet. When the comet moves closer to the Sun than the orbit of Mars, it is heated by the Sun’s radiation and the ices melt, releasing dust, rocks and gas. While they look bright and impressive, each meteor is only about the size of a pea or a grain of sand. They appear to emanate from the same point in the sky called the ‘radiant’. This is an illusion of perspective, similar to rain in car headlights at night seeming to come towards us from a point in the distance as the car moves forward.
The best way to view a meteor shower is with friends! They can flash across the sky in only a few seconds so you’ll only spot them if you’re looking in the exact right direction at the exact right time. Gather some mates and find a dark spot. Sit or stand back to back in groups of two to four facing the horizon. When you spot a meteor, call out so everyone else can quickly turn to see the trail.
Happy meteor hunting!