When and where to see shooting stars

November 12, 2021
Several meteors are seen streaking through the sky during the Leonid meteor shower over Joshua Tree National Park, California, in this approximately 25-minute time exposure on Nov. 18, 2001.
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  • The Leonids appear to be coming from the constellation Leo the Lion.
  • Some of the greatest meteor showers ever seen have been the Leonids.
  • Also known as “shooting stars,” the meteors are actually leftover comet dust.

Be sure to keep an eye to the sky next week: The peak of the Leonid meteor shower will be visible across the night sky late Nov. 16 and especially early Nov. 17.

The Leonids appear to be coming from the constellation Leo the Lion (hence their name) in the east, but they will be visible all the way across the sky.

Some of the greatest meteor showers ever seen have been the Leonids. In some years, they’ve been a full-fledged meteor “storm.” The 1833 Leonid meteor storm included rates as high as 100,000 meteors per hour, EarthSky said.

No such storm is expected this year, however.

In ideal conditions you can see 10 to 15 meteors at the peak of the shower, according to EarthSky. In 2021, unfortunately, we will have to deal with a waxing gibbous moon, which will make it hard to see fainter meteors. The best time to look it just before dawn Nov. 17 after the moon has set.

Another sky spectacle:The longest partial lunar eclipse of this century is coming: How to watch the frost moon

Also known as “shooting stars,” the meteors are actually leftover comet dust. They’re pea- and sand-size bits of dust and debris crumbling off the Tempel-Tuttle comet as it swings by the Earth. (Earth’s orbit takes it straight through the debris trail.)

The dust and debris ignite when they hit our atmosphere.

Leonids are also fast: They travel at 44 miles per second and are considered to be some of the fastest meteors out there, NASA said.

Here are some meteor shower viewing tips, courtesy of NASA:

  • Find an area well away from city or street lights.
  • Come prepared for chilly weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
  • Orient yourself with your feet toward east, lie flat on your back and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. 

In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.

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