The well-known Leonid meteor bathe is predicted to achieve its peak within the predawn hours on Friday (Nov. 17). Weather allowing, observing situations might be good: There’s a brand new moon on Saturday, which implies that the sky might be darkish with no hindrance in anyway from moonlight.
But do not anticipate to see lots of meteors. In truth, a single observer will probably see not more than 10 to 15 of those meteors per hour emanating from the “sickle” of Leo, the lion.
Hence the moniker for these meteors: the “Leonids.” The sickle — a star sample that appears like a backward query mark and descriptions the “mane” of Leo the lion — rises above the east-northeast horizon round 11 p.m. native time. By about 5 a.m. native time, this eye-catching star sample can have ascended to a place excessive within the south-southeast a part of the sky. [Most Amazing Leonid Meteor Shower Photos]
The Leonid meteor bathe is a particularly variable occasion that occurs yearly when Earth’s orbit crosses a path of comet crumbs left behind by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. A dense swarm of Leonid meteors returns to Earth about each 33 years, or concerning the time it takes for Tempel-Tuttle to orbit the solar.
Accompanying the return of its father or mother comet, the Leonid meteor bathe arrives as a storm of meteors each 33 years, producing greater than 1,000 “shooting stars” per hour. (During the strongest outbursts in 1799, 1833, 1866 and 1966, spectacular shows exceeded 1,000 meteors per minute!)
During the newest Leonid cycle, nonetheless, meteor charges have been a lot decrease. Between 1998 and 2002, meteors fell on the fee of many a whole lot to a number of thousand per hour.
In 2014, the swarm of Leonid meteors was at aphelion — the purpose in its orbit farthest away from the solar — out close to the orbit of Uranus. That’s the primary purpose the Leonids have been weak lately. But they’re all the time considerably unpredictable.
Earth meets these meteors head-on as a result of they’re touring via house in a path reverse to that of our residence planet. As a end result, they streak via our sky at ultraswift speeds of as much as 45 miles per second (72 kilometers per second). About half of them depart seen trains that, in essentially the most excessive instances, can persist for a lot of seconds.
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An unlucky circumstance will befall the Leonids within the yr 2028. On its manner in towards the solar, the swarm will cross close to Jupiter, and the large planet’s highly effective gravity will deflect the thickly clustered trails of meteoroids away from Earth’s orbit. As such, potential main Leonid shows in 2031, 2032 and 2033 both might be significantly decreased in depth or may not materialize in any respect. [How Meteor Showers Work (Infographic)]
However, Jupiter apparently can have little or no affect on the Leonid swarm in 2034, and most meteor specialists consider that as many as 500 to 1,000 meteors will seem per hour. That’s a far cry from the stupendous storms that occurred within the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, but there’ll nonetheless be a plentiful quantity for these gazing skyward 17 years from now.
But within the interim, take a look at the Leonids this weekend. If you are going out to look at for meteors, attempt to discover darkish skies away from mild air pollution, and keep in mind to bundle up — it might probably get chilly at evening this time of yr even in hotter climates! Good luck!
Joe Rao serves as an teacher and visitor lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History journal, the Farmer’s Almanac and different publications, and he’s additionally an on-camera meteorologist for Verizon Fios1 News, based mostly in Rye Brook, New York. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.