For those seeking a barrage of shooting stars in the crisp autumn sky, the Leonid meteor shower will be a slight disappointment. But never fear — there is one very cool way you can capture the celestial event.
The reason the Leonid meteor shower won’t be terribly phenomenal this year is because the Leonids — which return every year — only peak once every three decades, Popular Science noted. Its last peak was in 1998, when stargazers watched hundreds of shooting stars sprint across the night sky.
We won’t get to see the Leonid meteor shower at its best until 2031, The Washington Post added, so this year we’ll have to content ourselves to seeing one meteor every four minutes. Discovery upped that estimate to 15 meteors per hour maximum at the shower’s peak.
Unfortunately, the comet that produces these shooting stars — the Tempel-Tuttle — is in the middle of its orbit. The best meteor shower comes when the comet has just passed by — which it will do in 16 years — causing a spectacular light show.
A meteor shower, like Leonid, happens when the Earth passes through the dusty debris trail of a comet. The comet orbits around the sun, leaving a trail of its pieces — caused when the comet warms up a bit — in its wake. When our planet collides with these pieces, floating through our own orbit, they enter our atmosphere, burn up, and then we get a meteor shower.
Earthlings are treated to such a spectacle regularly; we enjoyed the Perseids this summer. The Leonid meteor shower always comes around November 17.
The best way to catch the Leonid meteor shower is, of course, to lay back on a nice cozy lounge chair outside (a comfy blanket and hot cocoa are recommended) and watch out for them. The steps to do so are quite straightforward.
To catch the shower at peak (because you can see these meteors all month), head out late on Tuesday night — just before midnight is best, but you can get started once the sun sets — and until the early hours of Wednesday morning. Late Wednesday night is still a good time to catch them, too. Luckily, the moon will be a mere crescent, creating a dark sky.
Once your eyes have adjusted, look east. There you’ll find the constellation Leo, which will rise in the eastern horizon at roughly midnight. Watch the sky around it and just wait for the meteor shower to begin. The shooting stars will appear to come from Leon, which is what gives the spectacle its name — Leonid.
Here’s the problem for many of us: meteorologists are predicting cloud cover for pretty much the entire country. But, there’s more than one way to enjoy the Leonid meteor shower, and you don’t need your eyeballs for this one.
According to Discovery, you can listen to the Leonid meteor shower on a simple car radio. Tune it to an FM station that’s at least 621 miles away, or too distant for any music or talk radio to come in — just that annoying static.
When meteor whizzes past the planet, you’ll be able to hear the radio station’s signal for just a moment. That’s because meteors leave behind a trail of ionized gas, which can reflect radio signals back down to Earth and make them easier to hear over long distances.
As your squinting skyward to find a Leonid meteor, or sitting in your dark car listening for one, regale your companions with this trivia about the comet responsible: It was discovered by two astronomers in the winter of 1865-66, independently. German Ernst Wilhelm Tempel and American Horace P. Tuttle saw it first and thus had to share the naming of their discovery with each other. The comet is about as farther away from Earth than Uranus.
[Photo By Ethan Miller / Getty Images]