Leonid Meteor Shower 2012 are finally here and the best time to watch them fall from sky will be Saturday morning (Video)
A dark and clear sky and the stars forming a gem encrusted canopy. And the crescent moon hanging in the heavens. What could be missing from such a glorious sight? Why, a shower of meteors passing brightly by. This weekend you have a chance to see just such a sight, because the earth will be passing through a cloud of extra terrestrial debris that would bring it the Leonid meteor shower.
The Leonid meteor shower, so named because the meteors seem to originate from the constellation Leo, will begin tonight and would peak sometime tomorrow morning. The peak of the shower is expected around 3 AM Saturday (if you are living in the US).
Astronomy experts are predicting that about 15 to 20 meteors will pass through the sky each hour. But don’t expect to catch all of them. If you see three to five each hour, you are doing great.
The crescent moon should set early enough to leave the sky dark and beautiful, just the right conditions to catch some falling stars. These meteors are of course debris that are left behind by comets in their path through the heavens. Every year the earth passes through patches of space that are especially dense with these debris. The Leonids are the debris left behind by a comet called the Tempel-Tuttle, as astronomer Don Yeomans confirmed in 1981. He predicted that the return of the 1998 return of Comet Tempel-Tuttle would leave enough debris behind to cause especially significant meteor activity in the subsequent years. He was right. November 2002 saw hundreds of Leonid meteors streak across the sky per hour, making it look like celestial firework.
A lot of meteors enter the earth atmosphere and burn up, causing them to look like bright streaks across the sky. Most of them are however small enough to burn out before they reach the surface. Leonids are known to be quick and bright.
“Leonid meteors are very swift. Meteroids in this stream have the highest geocentric velocity (44 miles per second) known for any shower, close to the maximum value theoretically possible,” says Neil Bone in his book Meteors. “The Leonids are rich in faint meteors, indicating a high proportion of small particles in the swarm.”
On the fun trivia front, in 1866 astronomers thought there were between 2000 to 5000 meteors passing through the sky per hour at their peak. In 1966 there were United States star gazers were treated to a sight of over 60,000 Leonid meteor passing through the atmosphere per hour at their peak. Makes the 15-20 meteor per hour pale in comparison, doesn’t it?
On a more serious note, Leonids might cause storms. So maybe you should be ready for that too.