Stargazers who want to catch one of the year’s most spectacular cosmic shows will be staying up late Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday morning, November 17 and 18. They will stay up to watch what Astronomy estimates will be between 15 and 20 meteors per hour as the Earth passes through the debris field left by Comet Temple-Tuttle, creating the annual Leonid Meteor Shower.
Shooting stars are easily seen with the naked eye, so a telescope or other special equipment is not needed to view the Leonid Meteor Shower, so-named because the meteors that fall from space will appear to originate in the area of the sky occupied the constellation Leo, or the Lion, according to EarthSky. But skywatchers should find a spot where they can see as much of the whole sky as possible, because the shooting stars can appear at any location.
“Go outside, find a dark sky, lie flat on your back and look straight up,” Bill Cooke, a meteor scientist for NASA, told the site Space, “and be prepared to spend a couple of hours outside.”
While the show on Saturday night and Sunday morning should be spectacular, it will be far from the greatest Leonid meteor shower. In 1833, the shower produced a staggering 100,000 shootings stars per hour, as Mother Nature Network recounts, a phenomenon that made a lifelong impression on those who saw it — including no less a figure than Abraham Lincoln.
The #Leonids #meteor shower peaks tonight! Caused by dust left behind by #comet Temple-Tuttle the Leonids produced the most spectacular meteor storm in history when on the night of 13th Nov 1833 thousands of meteors per hour were seen! This year expect a modest 15-20 meteors/hour pic.twitter.com/aa0gJnNaRt— Daily Astronomy Tweet (@dailyastrotweet) November 17, 2018
According to great American poet Walt Whitman, a contemporary of Lincoln, the president used the memory of the 1833 meteor shower, which at the time was thought to be the “Day of Judgment” foretold in the Bible, to reassure a group of White House visitors that even the Civil War would not be the end of the United States, as Sky and Telescope quoted.
“I sprang from my bed & rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers!” Lincoln recalled, according to Whitman. “But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constella- tions with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”
To check where the shooting stars will appear in any specific city or location, the site TimeAndDate has provided an interactive sky map that pinpoints the area from which the meteors will radiate at any given point in time.
The best time to see the meteor showers will be between midnight and dawn on both mornings, wherever you are in the world. If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t littered with city lights that will obstruct your view,” advised CNN science reporter Ashley Strickland.
“Find an open area with a wide view of the sky, and don’t forget to bundle up,” she continued. “If you want to photograph the Leonid meteor shower, NASA suggests using a camera with manual focus on a tripod with a shutter release cable or built-in timer, fitted with a wide-angle lens.”