It’s possible that the most famous annual meteor shower will soon reach its maximum: the Leonids. These ultra-fast meteors are scheduled to reach their peak on Saturday morning (November 18).
The Leonid meteor shower is famous for producing some of the most spectacular meteor displays in the history of astronomy. The most notable are meteor storms, as happened in 1799, 1833, and 1966, when meteor shower rates reaching tens of thousands per hour were observed. More recently, in 1999, 2001 and 2002, smaller numbers of meteors – “only” a few thousand meteors per hour – were observed.
Unfortunately, the negative effect of those Leonid showers at the turn of the century is that many are under the impression that they can expect a similar occurrence to Leonid’s celestial fireworks every year. So, it is important to stress here at the outset that any suggestion of a spectacular Leonid meteorite display this year is, to put it mildly, overly optimistic.
So, if you were expecting a memorable meteor shower display early Saturday morning, we’re sorry to break it to you, but the 2023 version of the Leonids will likely be a disappointment, as they’ll likely be weak and there will likely be long periods when they won’t take place. See any of them.
Related: Meteor shower 2023: When is the next?
How do you see Leonids this year?
The International Meteorological Organization (IMO) expects hourly rates to range from 10 to 15 per hour with a peak at around 5:00 UTC on November 18. The moon is a waxing crescent and will set before 8:30 pm on Friday evening and will appear with no intrusion at all. But whatever predictions you trust, keep in mind that even at their best, leonides are expected to hurtle across your line of sight at a rate of once every 3 to 6 minutes. And that’s just assuming you have a wide-open view of the entire sky and are blessed with dark, unpolluted conditions.
Watching a meteor shower is a relatively straightforward task. It consists of lying on your back, looking at the sky, and waiting. Keep in mind that any local light pollution or obstructions such as tall trees or buildings will reduce your chances of seeing the meteor.
Leo doesn’t begin to fully emerge until the after-midnight hours, so this will be the best time to focus on searching for the Leonids. As dawn is about to break at about 5 a.m. local time, the sickle will have climbed more than two-thirds of the way from the southeastern horizon to the point directly overhead (called the peak of the sky).
Also, because leonides move in their orbit around the Sun in the opposite direction to Earth’s, they collide with our atmosphere almost head-on, resulting in the fastest possible meteorite speed: 45 miles (72 km) per second. Such velocities tend to produce bright meteors, which leave long-lasting streaks or vapor trains in their wake.
Leonid’s massive fireball could be absolutely stunning, but such brilliantly bright meteors are likely to be too few and too far between this year (if they exist at all).
The Leonids got their nickname because the shower’s emanation point — from where the meteors appear to spread — is located within the constellation Leo, from within the trailing question mark pattern of stars known as the “sickle.”
These meteors are caused by the periodic Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which sweeps through the inner solar system every 33.3 years. Every time a comet passes close to the Sun it leaves a “river of debris” in its wake. A thick trail of dusty debris. A meteor storm is only possible if Earth registers a direct hit on a trail of new dust ejected by the comet over the past two centuries.
The “lion’s share” (no pun intended) of the comet’s dust can be found directly behind Tempel-Tuttle. This comet last swept through the inner solar system in 1998. For this reason, amazing meteor showers were observed in 1999, 2001 and 2002, with their numbers decreasing after that.
In 2016, Temple-Tuttle reached apogee, the point in its orbit where it can reach the furthest possible distance from the Sun: 1.84 billion miles (2.96 billion kilometers). Now the comet is on its way back toward the Sun and the inner solar system and will approach the Sun again in May 2031.
A lean year in 2023
But it is also, in the general vicinity of the comet, where the heaviest concentrations of meteorites are found. In contrast, at the point we pass through the comet’s orbit on Saturday morning, there will be only a scattering of particles; Fragments of comet debris that collapsed from the frozen comet nucleus perhaps a thousand or two years ago.
Therefore, the 2023 Leonids are expected to show weak activity this year. According to Russia’s leading meteor shower forecasting expert, Mikhail Maslov, Expectations indicate a “moderate” maximum.which suggests that it will remain at approximately the same level (about 15 per hour) during the period from 0:00 to 12:00 UTC on November 18.
Canadian meteor forecasters Margaret Campbell-Brown and Peter Brown, in the 2023 Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Observer’s Guide, are a bit more optimistic, suggesting rates of up to 20 per hour with a maximum occurring at 0600 UTC on November 18. This reaches around midnight for eastern and central North America.
The good news is that as Comet Tempel-Tuttle approaches the Sun, the leonides are expected to slowly improve. According to Mikhail Maslov, it is possible that there will be a greater preponderance of bright meteors, especially in 2025. But that will not happen until 2033, when both Maslov and another well-known forecaster, the Frenchman Jérémy Faubillion, predict possible rates per hour of several hundred or more. . . But the best years in the next Leonid cycle will be 2034 and 2035.
In 2034, the debris falling from Tempel-Tuttle from 1699 should produce between 400 and 1,600 leonides per hour, followed a few hours later by another burst of activity from material shed by the comet in 1767; There may be 250 to 1,000 leonids present. Finally, in 2035, between 300 and 900 leonides could be found from a dusty meteorite impact dating back to 1633.
But if you can’t wait until then, here’s some good news: An even more prolific meteor shower is coming our way in less than a month: December’s Geminids, which are now considered the best meteor shower of the year, producing more than 100 meteors. per hour. It is expected to reach its peak on Wednesday night, December 13. Space.com will provide you with all the details as we get closer to that date. Stay in touch!
If you want to take a closer look at stars or planets during a new moon or any other time, our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to start.
And if you’re looking to capture images of leonides or the night sky in general, check out our guide on how to photograph meteors and meteor showers, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
“Amateur organizer. Wannabe beer evangelist. General web fan. Certified internet ninja. Avid reader.”