The Leonid Meteor Shower
The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the 16th/ 17th of November 2012 and is one of the most dramatic and famous meteor showers.
During its history, the Leonids have produced heavy meteor showers and storms, in 1833 and 1966 the Leonids produced tens of thousands of meteors per hour! These Leonid storms literally did have the appearance of meteors falling from the sky like rain.
Frightened witnesses felt that they needed to hold on to objects on the ground as the impression of Earth speeding through space was incredibly strong as the earth slammed into and ploughed meteoroid stream. Shooting stars were coming from a point in the sky called the radiant, in the constellation of Leo the Lion (the radiant is where the Leonid meteor shower gets its name) which gave rise to the amplified feeling of the Earths movement through the debris stream and space.
What Causes The Leonid Meteor Shower
This dramatic phenomena is caused by the Leonid‘s parent comet; Temple Tuttle which orbits the sun every 33 years. The comet ejects vast amounts of material into space when it gets close to the sun causing a meteoroid stream, the Earth encounters and passes through this meteoroid stream annually every November. The comet is at perihelion (closest to the Sun) in 2031 so we have a few years yet until another load of comet stuff is dumped into space, but meteor showers and in particular the Leonids are unpredictable. In the years 1988 through to 2002 up to 3000 meteors were recorded on video per hour.
Normally if the Earth isn’t passing through a dense part of the Leonid stream we can expect to see a zenith hourly rate of roughly 20 Leonids per hour, but this is highly variable. In 2012 there is an absence of a full moon late in the evening on the nights of the Leonid peak, so meteor watching will be good, weather permitting. In future years; if there is a bright moon present, the fainter Leonids may not be seen.
Watching the Leonid Meteor Shower
There may be more than one peak of the Leonids other than the 16th/ 17th in November 2012 with another possible peak on the 20th. For more detailed information visit the International Meteor Organisation.
To watch and enjoy the Leonids; wrap up warm, find a nice dark spot away from bright lights with a good view of the sky, make yourself comfortable and look up. There is no equipment needed, just a little bit of patience and you only need your eyes.