Hey, Space Placers!

Leonid 2020

Credit: Greg Redfern

Are you a night owl and/or an early riser and like to look at the night sky?  Midnight tonight into the hours before dawn is just the thing for you as the annual Leonid Meteor Shower  is expected to peak during that time frame.

Our weather MAY offer clear to partly cloudy skies after midnight with POSSIBLE clearing towards dawn . You will just have to get out and look for yourself.

The Leonids were first seen in 902 A.D. and “storm” every 33 years producing 100’s to 1000’s of meteors an hour. The last Leonid storm was in 2001. This year a dark sky site should produce 10 to 15 Leonid meteors an hour and the Moon will have set so it won’t be a light source..

Each year at this time our planet encounters a debris stream of cometary particles made by Comet Temple-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun.  As Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun it collides with this debris stream and the particles hit our atmosphere at 45 miles per second (about 155,000 miles per hour!) to become “shooting or falling stars”. Earth encounters about a dozen major meteor showers a year.

The best place to see the Leonids is a dark sky location that is away from lights and obstructions such as trees and buildings. This will give you the best chance to see the peak of 10-15 meteors an hour. If you are a city dweller you still may see the brightest Leonids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in amongst tall buildings. Out in the country or along the beach is the best place to be.

You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy this meteor sky show. Just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky towards the East and overhead. Starting after midnight when the constellation Leo the Lion is starting to rise above the horizon look towards the East. A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to the constellation Leo which will be completely above the Eastern horizon a little after 1 a.m.. As the night wears on Leo will rise higher in the sky and move towards the West due to Earth’s rotation. 

Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be normally seen during the night as well.

The key to watching the shower is being comfortable, in other words WARM. The Leonids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking at least halfway up in the sky facing the East gives you the widest viewing area – this is where the lounge chair, sleeping bag or blanket come in handy.  Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some music, food and beverages are an added plus. 

Try your luck at photographing the Leonid and other meteor showers . It is pretty easy and requires some kind of camera and tripod.

Fingers crossed for clear skies…….

Sky Guy in VA

Leave a Comment