Leonid Meteor Shower Expected To Peak Monday

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The Leonid meteor shower, the result of debris left in the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle that hits Earth’s atmosphere each year around mid-November, is expected to peak on Monday.
According to Calla Cofield of Scientific American and Space.com, stargazers living in the US will get their best look at the meteor shower between midnight and dawn on Monday and Tuesday morning, November 17 and 18.
Cofield said that this year’s edition of the meteor shower should produce between 10 and 15 meteors per hour. While that would be a decent rate for many meteor showers, she adds that the Leonids “have a lot to live up to,” as they have been known to produce meteors at a rate of 1,000 or more per hour in previous years.
A shower like that is not expected to occur again for another 20 years, but that doesn’t mean enthusiasts can’t enjoy this year’s version of the Leonids – and Cofield notes that the best way to do so is to go to an area far from city lights, lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special equipment is required, but you might want to dress warmly!
“The Leonids are a reliable annual shower,” EarthSky’s Eleanor Imster explained, noting that the moon “is out of the way” and that Jupiter, the “brightest planet in the nighttime sky now.. is near the Leonid’s radiant point.” She recommended viewing during pre-dawn hours on Tuesday.
Those who don’t want to brave the cold (and possibly snowy) conditions can watch the Leonids from the comfort of their own home by watching live streams from both the NASA’s Meteorite Environment Office and the Slooh Community Observatory, Cofield said. NASA’s broadcast will begin Monday night at 7:30pm EST and will run through sunrise on Tuesday, while the Slooh live stream is scheduled to start at 8:00pm EST on November 17.
Bill Cook, head of the Meteoroid Environment Office, also noted that some experts believe the 2014 Leonids could actually have a second peak, which would occur on Thursday, November 20, Scientific American said. Last year, the meteor shower peaked between November 16 and November 17, Space.com’s Robert Roy Britt reported back in November 2013.
So how are the Leonids produced? Britt explains that every 33 years, Comet Tempel-Tuttle travels around the sun and heads back towards the outer solar system. On each passage across the Earth’s orbit, it releases a trail of debris in a slightly different area than before, and that debris spreads out as time passes.
“Each year, Earth passes through different streams, and different parts of the streams, creating bursts of activity and slack periods in the nights surrounding the event’s peak,” he said, adding that “most of the shooting stars” in the Leonids “are the result of tiny bits of material, the size of sand grains or peas” that blow off the comet and travel through space for centuries at a time. They are vaporized in the atmosphere and never hit the ground, Britt added.
One of the most active Leonid meteor showers took place in 1833, long before scientists fully understood it, the Space.com writer explained. “For several hours… thousands and thousands of meteors at a time rained down,” he said. “That’s more shooting stars in few minutes than you’ll probably see in your whole life.” The phenomenon was so bright it woke people up, and led many to believe that the spectacular light show marked the end of the world.
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