It will be a bad year for one of the most famous meteor showers, the Leonids .
This year's Leonids are expected to peak on Monday morning (November 18). A big drawback for two reasons. It is expected that the shower itself will be mild, and there will be a dwindling, gibbous moon that illuminates the sky before dawn.
The Leonid shower is one of the best known of the annual meteor shower. The name indicates that the beam point of the shower from which the meteors appear to be hidden lies within the sickle, the star pattern with the backward question mark within the constellation of Leo (hence Leonid), the this marks the lion's head and mane.
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This meteor shower is made by the comet Temple-Tuttle, which burns every 33.3 years Solar system sweeps. Each time the comet comes closest to the sun, the traveler leaves a stream of cosmic garbage. This dense trail of dusty debris can trigger a more dramatic meteor storm when the earth makes a direct hit on a trail of fresh dust ejected by the comet.
However, the comet is due to cross the inner solar system again in 2031, so that this year's Leonids have only a low activity with at best 10 to 15 meteors per hour.
Even this year's Leonids are outshone by the moon. As the showers peak on the morning of Monday, November 18, the moon is next door, only 20 degrees away. This corresponds to two clenched fists that are held at arm's length.
How to watch and what to look for
If you want to try to catch a Leonid despite the poor prognosis, do the following. Get out, lay back, look up to the sky … and wait. Keep in mind that this year's handicap of a shining moon illuminating the sky should take into account that local light pollution or obstacles such as tall trees or buildings further reduce your chances of a meteorite sighting . Leo comes in sight after midnight, so it's time to set your alarm.
However, it's not all bad news for this year's shower. As the Leonids orbit the Sun in opposite directions to Earth, they bounce into our atmosphere almost head-on, resulting in the fastest possible meteorite speeds: 45 miles (72 kilometers) per second. Such speeds tend to produce bright meteors leaving long-lasting streaks or steam trains.
A sturdy Leonid fireball can be quite spectacular and bright enough to attract attention even in the bright moonlight. But such exceptionally bright meteors are likely to be very few and very far apart this year .
Well, here's the conclusion: If you want to brave the cold of a mid-November morning and a moonlit sky to catch a glimpse of just a few Leonids, you should get an award for devotion – and rightly smooth semen.
Joe Rao is a lecturer and guest lecturer in the Hayden Planetarium in New York . He writes about astronomy for Natural History Magazine the Farmers & # 39; Almanac and other publications and is also on-camera meteorologist for Verizon FiOS1 News in New York's lower Hudson Valley. Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and Facebook .