iOS app Android app More

Leonid Meteor Shower 2011: Annual Celestial Light Show Peaks This Week


Posted: 11/16/11 06:21 PM ET

Get ready, stargazers. The annual Leonid meteor shower is scheduled to hit its peak on Thursday night. But unfortunately, the stars are not aligned (sorry, we couldn't resist) for the best viewing. Here's why:

A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through debris left by a comet. In the case of the Leonids, Earth is passing through material left by the Tempel-Tuttle comet. What we see as shooting stars will depend on the concentration of meteoroids in the path, and that concentration could be on the low side since, according to Space.com, this particular trail of debris is "typically patchy."

Further complicating any earthbound viewing efforts -- as was the case with the Draconid and Perseid meteor showers earlier this year -- the Leonids will be competing with the light of the moon. Astronomy magazine reports that the moon will be near its last quarter on Thursday night, so the meteors risk being washed out.

Finally, every meteor shower has a radiant, which is the point from which the meteors appear to originate. The radiant for the Leonids is -- as you may guess based on the name -- in the constellation Leo.

According to EarthSky, the radiant will be below the eastern horizon when the Leonids peak Thursday night and thus out of view. That means we'll have to wait until around midnight for the radiant to become visible above the horizon. (Click here to see a great chart from Astronomy magazine.)

All that said, there is still a chance that you could get a good show. National Geographic suggests looking at the eastern sky before the sun rises early Friday morning, and Space.com recommends giving your eyes at least 15-20 minutes to get used to the dark. Of course, it's also best to be as far away from city lights as possible, since light pollution can interfere with visibility.

According to National Geographic, the Leonids are among the fastest meteors of any meteor shower. Tammy Plotner at Universe Today reports that they'll be moving at about 45 miles per second (that's 162,000 miles per hour!) and we may be treated with up to 20 per hour.

Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, suggests keeping your eyes peeled both nights. "If people want to see the Leonids, it might be good to watch the nights of November 16th and 17th," he told Universe Today. "Instead of just going out one night, you might want to go out twice."

What are you plans for watching the Leonid meteor shower? Thinking about bundling up and heading out to stargaze? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out the slideshow below for photos of past meteor showers:

Loading Slideshow...
  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JORGE GUERRERO. (Photo credit should read Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Perseids meteor shower is seen in the sky in the early hours of August 12, 2008 near the town of Sofia. The night between 12 August and 13 August is expected to be the peak of the Perseids meteor shower over the eastern sky, a meteor shower which comes every year, beginning in late July and stretching into August. AFP PHOTO / BORYANA KATSAROVA (Photo credit should read BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JORGE GUERRERO. (Photo credit should read Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor (L) from the Geminids meteor shower enters the Earth's atmosphere past the stars Castor and Pollux (two bright stars, R) on December 12, 2009 above Southold, New York. This meteor shower gets the name 'Geminids' because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into a stream of debris from the object every year in mid-December, causing the meteors. The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor from the Geminids meteor shower (streak at top) enters the Earth's atmosphere on December 12, 2009 above Southold, New York. This meteor shower gets the name 'Geminids' because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into a stream of debris from the object every year in mid-December, causing the meteors. The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this Dec. 2009 picture provided by Wally Pacholka of AstroPics.com, a Geminid fireball explodes over the Mojave Desert in the Jojave Desert, Calif. on Dec. 13, 2009. In mid-December 2010, the Geminid meteor shower will make its annual appearance, just in time for Christmas. Astronomers consider it the best meteor shower of 2010, with more than 100 meteors streaking through the night sky every hour. (AP Photo/AstroPics.com, Wally Pacholka) MANDATORY CREDIT: ASTROPICS.COM, WALLY PACHOLKA; NO SALES; EDITORIAL USE ONLY IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 2010 GEMINID METEOR SHOWER STORIES

  • A meteor is seen sparking along the Milky Way while entering the earth's atmosphere, during the Perseid meteor shower early Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in this long exposure picture taken on a mountain road just south of Macedonia's capital Skopje. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

  • A couple of stargazers observe as a meteor, center, sparks while entering the earth's atmosphere, during the Perseid meteor shower early Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in this long exposure picture taken from a mountain just south of Macedonia's capital Skopje. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)


FOLLOW HUFFPOST GREEN

Filed by Timothy Stenovec  |  Report Corrections