Tonight, thousands of specks of light will permeate the night sky as a stream of interstellar particles burning through the Earth’s atmosphere reaches its peak.
Tempel-Tuttle passes through our inner solar system every 33 years, leaving a trail of debris in its wake. The resulting debris is intercepted by Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an aerial light show known as the Leonid meteor shower.
Avi Shporer, a researcher at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, said the meteor showers occur when the Earth goes through a comet’s interstellar exhaust.
“A meteor shower occurs when Earth goes through a comet’s orbit, where there are dust particles equivalent to cosmic garbage,” Shporer said. “When the particles burn up in the atmosphere … a meteor shower occurs.”
The Leonid meteor shower receives its name from the constellation the meteors originate from — Leo.
According to Shporer, meteor-watching would be best without any star-gazing equipment.
“[The Leonids are] best viewed without any equipment in order to see a large area of the night sky,” Shporer said. “The peak occurs during the last hours of the night.”
Unfortunately, North America does not receive the best conditions for observing the shower. Shooting star watchers on the continent can expect to see an estimated 20-30 meteors per hour, while observers in Asia will be able to experience about 200-500 meteors per hour.
The Leonids are not going to shine alone, as Mars is also passing through the dust particle stream, providing onlookers with an additional bright spot in the sky.
According to Shporer, this year’s shower will be one of the better showers.
“From my impression, it will be a greater meteor shower almost reaching 100 per hour, which is a fair amount,” Shporer said.
A NASA article said the Earth will intersect two particle trails from the comet, one left behind in 1466 and another in 1533, resulting in a larger meteor shower than previous years.
In the past few years, the Leonid showers have significantly grown in size, with last year’s shower producing 100 meteors an hour while the year before that only produced 10 per hour. However, this year’s shower is still small in comparison to Leonids in the past, such as the shower in 2002 which clocked 3,000 meteors per hour, according to NASA.
According to Shporer, those who are burdened by midterms or heavy eyelids during the Leonids still have another opportunity to catch a meteor shower before the year’s end.
“If people cannot stay up or wake up early for Leonid shower there is a probably more significant shower on Dec. 14th called the Geminid Shower that will be active all night compared to the last few hours of the night of the Leonid Shower.” Shporer said.