And now for some real meteors (as opposed to the mythical ones hurled by Talos yesterday). The annual Leonid shower is expected to be at its peak on Thursdat November 17, around 12 Universal Time, which is from 5 yo 8 hours earlier in North American time zones – the midnight-to-dawn hours of November 17.
The Leonids were very real in 1833, when people thought the sky was falling, and in 1966, when watchers in Arizona estimated the rate of “shooting stars” as 144,000 per hour. The Leonids are not expected to put on one of these storms this year. You might be lucky to see 15 an hour at the peak. An advantage, however, is that the Moon is out of the sky all night (it will be New on Nov. 18).
The Leonids enter our atmosphere at very high speed, because they are meeting us head-on.
In this picture, the “flight of Earth” and “Leonids overhead” arrows are almost exactly opposed. At a right angle to Earth’s motion is the overhead Sun, with the Moon in almost that direction too.
The radiant – the point in the sky from which the meteors’ trails appear to spread, in the constellation Leo – comes into view only as your part of the Earth rolls around toward the forward side, that is, after midnight. Some meteors might be seen from then on, but they should grow more abundant as you roll around toward dawn and the radiant grows higher ibn the sky – and also, this time, as you get nearer to the peak time. Definitely an experience for the small hours of the night, and we’ll be interested to hear from anyone who braves November small-hours temperatures. Dress warmly!
The view eastward at local midnight as the head of Leo the Lion rises. Notice that “Earth’s direction of travel,” in the ecliptic plane, is only a few degrees from the radiant. Don’t expect to see many meteors simultaneously!
For more detail about the Leonids, you can see what we said about them in previous years
(That was my digression about Leonidas.)