Leonid Meteor Shower 2018: Here’s When To Catch The Shooting Stars This Week

Last night, stargazers were treated to a fiery appearance from the North Taurids — one of the two branches of the Taurid meteor shower famous for lighting up the sky with blazing fireballs, the Inquisitr previously reported.

Later this week, another November meteor shower will set the sky ablaze, raining down bright, colorful meteors — and possibly even fireballs.

The middle of the month marks the arrival of the Leonids — one of the best meteor showers of the entire year. This meteor shower gets its name from the Leo constellation (“The Lion”) because it seems to radiate from one of its most famous asterisms — “the Sickle,” a group of stars that looks like a backward question mark.

However, the true source of the Leonid meteor shower is a periodic comet dubbed Comet 55P Tempel-Tuttle, which pops by once every few decades.

“Leonids are bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years the comet visits the inner solar system and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake,” explains NASA.

Each year, Earth’s orbit takes our planet through this trail of comet crumbs, which hit our atmosphere and burn up in brilliant flashes, falling down the sky as shooting stars.

While the Leonid meteor shower normally peaks at about 10 to 15 shooting stars an hour, in some years the Leonids put on a magnificent display, streaking across the sky at spectacular rates of more than 1,000 meteors an hour. That’s about 17 shooting stars per minute.

On rare occasions, their numbers are even more enhanced, leading to full-blown meteor storms that can be seen in certain areas on the globe. These sublime performances occur once every 33 years — around the time that Comet Tempel-Tuttle makes its dazzling appearance — and bewilder sky watchers with meteor storms of up to 50,000 meteors per hour, notes Space.

The last time we witnessed a Leonid storm of around 1,000 meteors per hour was in 2002. The next one won’t be coming around for another 16 years, which means we have to wait until 2034 to take in the beauty of a majestic Leonid storm. Meanwhile, Comet Tempel-Tuttle last graced us with its presence in 1997 and is expected to return in 2031.

Perhaps one of the most memorable Leonid storms occurred in 1966, when “thousands of meteors per minute fell through Earth’s atmosphere during a 15-minute period,” according to NASA. “There were so many meteors seen that they appeared to fall like rain.”

Images of the 1966 Leonid meteor shower.
Four views of the 1966 Leonid meteor shower, photographed on November 18 from The Kitt Peak National Observatory Near Tucson, Arizona. Featured image credit: Aura/Noao/NsfGetty Images

Although expected to be significantly less intense, this year’s meteor shower can still offer an enjoyable experience to passionate stargazers who are willing to brave the cold, moonlit night.

“The Leonids usually contain many bright meteors with trails that can be seen for several minutes. And, you may see fireballs,” states NASA.

The 2018 Leonid meteor shower peaks on the night of November 17 and can be seen until the early hours of dawn on the next morning. This year, the Leonids are expected to fall down at rates of up to 15 meteors per hour and could be accompanied by fireballs.

“The fireballs originate from much bigger chunks of cometary stuff, which produces the extra fireworks in the sky,” reports Space.

The best time to catch the Leonids shoot across the sky is soon after midnight and up until 3 a.m. To enjoy the show, head out to a dark viewing spot, lean back and cast your eyes upon the sky. Remember to bundle up, as you might be spending up to a couple of hours outside, and let the dance of the meteors take you away — provided the bright moon doesn’t obstruct your view.

In case you miss the peak night or the moon ends up outshining the meteor shower, don’t fret.

“You should also be able to see some Leonids on the 18th, 19th and 20th,” says Jane Houston Jones of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The maximum for any of these nights is only 10 Leonids per hour.”