Mesmeric time lapse of the 2009 Leonid meteor shower
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The Leonids may be less prolific than the Perseids or Orionids, but the annual meteor shower is still guaranteed to dazzle amateur stargazers this week. The shower starts each year in early November when our planet ploughs through a dusty debris field left behind the comet Temple-Tuttle. Tiny bits and pieces of the comet crash into Earth’s atmosphere, creating beautiful streeks of light at speeds of up to 70km per second.
When is the Leonid meteor shower this week?
This year, the Leonids are expected to be active between November 5 and 29, which means the shower has already begun.
But the best views are yet to come, as the astronomers predict the shower will be most intense in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning through to Thursday.
This will be the night of the so-called peak and, weather permitting, you should see anywhere between 10 to 15 shooting stars an hour.
According to the US space agency NASA, these will be “bright and colourful” meteors that will zip across the night skies at breakneck speeds.
And though the meteor shower arrives each year, the Comet Temple-Tuttle takes about 33 years to complete a lap around the Sun.
Consequently, every 33 years or so, stargazers are treated to a so-called meteor storm that produces thousands of shooting stars during the peak.
NASA explained: “Viewers in 1966 experienced a spectacular Leonid storm: thousands of meteors per minute fell through Earth’s atmosphere during a 15 minute period.
“There were so many meteors seen that they appeared to fall like rain.
“The last Leonid meteor storm took place in 2002.”
Meteor spotted in night sky over Northern Ireland
Where is the best place to see the Leonid meteor shower?
Meteor showers are best seen in a dark and quiet place, far from distracting city lights.
Your best bet is to find a wide open field or park that offers unobstructed views of the horizon.
Keep in mind that city lights, cars and even smartphones can be incredibly distracting and prevent your eyes from seeing the shooting stars.
When you go out give your eyes up to 20 minutes to adjust to the dark – and remember to dress appropriately for the weather.
The shower will be best seen at about midnight and into the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday.
NASA said: “Come prepared for winter temperatures with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
“Orient yourself with your feet towards east, lie flat on your back, and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.
“In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors.
“Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”
Where does the Leonid meteor shower come from?
The Leonids are bits and pieces of the Comet Temple-Tuttle that burn up in the planet’s atmosphere.
As the comet races around the Sun, particles and dust from its outer layers break off and are left behind the chunk of ice.
Earth happens to pass the comet’s orbit in November, as well dozens of other comet and asteroid trails throughout the year.
The Leonids are named after their so-called radiant point – the point from which they appear to emerge in the sky – in the constellation Leo the Lion.
But the good news is you will not have to look for Leo this week.
NASA said: “It is actually better to view the Leonids away from the radiant: They will appear longer and more spectacular from this perspective.
“If you do look directly at the radiant, you will find that the meteors will be short—this is an effect of perspective called foreshortening.”
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