This November, Prepare To Be Dazzled By The Leonids


If you’ve never seen a meteor shower before, you’ll want to be on the lookout this month.November has historically offered some of the most memorable meteor showers that the world has ever seen.

Every year, astronomy enthusiasts wait with bated breath for the Leonids meteor shower, which is predicted to be most visible on November 17th and 18th. The peak of the shower can offer a stunning scene of around twenty meteors raining from the sky per hour — a view you surely won’t forget anytime soon.

The shower is generally so widespread within both hemispheres that you don’t even need to situate yourself anywhere specific to get a good look. That being said, the best place to spot meteors is, of course, away from the harshness of city lights — so bringing your blanket to a large, wide-open park with views of the clear sky is probably your best bet.

So what exactly will you be witnessing when you’re watching the Leonids? Like other meteor showers, the name Leonids draws from the shower’s radiant — or where the meteors appear to originate in the sky. In this case, Leonids appears to fall from the constellation Leo. So, while you can observe meteors anywhere in the sky, if you want to get really specific, you can look eastward and towards the constellation Leo to watch the meteor’s path downwards. The Leonids’ parent comet is Tempel-Tutte, which means that we can see the Leonids when the Earth is moving through the debris that Tempel-Tutte has left behind.

The Leonids are renowned in the astronomy world for offering stunning scenes that remain unparalleled throughout history. In 1833, people’s understanding of science and physics was still rapidly developing, with a huge amount of undiscovered knowledge still missing from what we know today. The Leonids of that year left people simply awestruck, and effectively took people’s understanding of the wonders of the world —both around and beyond them — to dramatic new heights. In the United States, the Leonids storm lasted for hours, with hundreds of thousands of meteors raining down for all those in North America east of the Rocky Mountains to see. As you can imagine, it was a surreal, stunning spectacle, with many believing it held clear religious significance. It is even credited by the founder of Mormonism as a sure sign from God of the imminent second coming of Jesus. It was also noted by several nations of Native Americans, famous abolitionists including Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and eventually President Abraham Lincoln himself.

1833 was one particular year in which the meteor shower could more accurately be described as a meteor storm. A meteor storm can be considered as any event with over 1000 meteors an hour, whereas a shower typically sees far fewer than that —just several meteors per hour.

Interest in Leonids was so great by the 1990’s that it resulted in an airborne observing campaign, which was created in order to mobilize observation techniques never seen before, which were conducted at NASA Ames Research Center. The late 1990’s ultimately saw a number of scientific breakthroughs in our understanding of meteor showers as well, thanks to the tireless work of several dedicated researchers.

Only time will tell how large this year’s Leonids meteor shower will be, and whether it will be an exciting headline in astronomy news, or gather much more widespread attention.

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