by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator
The annual Leonid Meteor Shower will be at its height this Wednesday and Thursday morning (November 17th & 18th) with best viewing taking place about three hours before sunrise. This year expect “light showers” of about 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Telescopes and binoculars are not required for this type of event, but a few pieces of equipment may make your viewing more enjoyable. A lawn chair will allow you to lean back and look up without getting a crick in your neck, while a sleeping bag will help keep you warm in the pre-dawn hours.
The Leonids are so named because they seem to emanate from somewhere in the vicinity of the constellation Leo. They are actually debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle; and because they orbit the sun in a direction opposite to our own planet, they enter the atmosphere almost straight on at speeds of roughly 45 miles (72 kilometers) a second. That speed helps to create the intense streaks of light and long trains associated with the Leonid Meteor Shower.
For more information check out this article on the Leonid Meteor Shower at Space.com and our in-depth post by guest blogger Jeff Bowell on last year’s shower (this one has some great viewing tips, too).
Or, for a more musical explanation of meteors watch the video of “What is a Shooting Star?” by They Might Be Giants from their fantastic CD / DVD entitled, Here Comes Science.