Leonids — Meteor Shower Extraordinaire
Time to break out the hot chocolate, lawn chairs and blankets and stake out a dark spot to watch the Leonids. The Leonids are my own personal favorite meteor shower (you know you are a science geek when you have a favorite meteor shower) because they peak during week of my birthday, sometimes even on my birthday.
The 2010 Leonids are not expected to be as spectacular as in years past, but if you are in North America, go out just before dawn on November 17th or 18th (Wednesday and Thursday) and look toward the southwest, you could still see a meteor every minute or so, which is not a bad rate as far as showers go.
Leonids get their name because they appear to originate from the constellation Leo. Most meteor showers are named for the constellation they appear to radiate from. As I have mentions before, the shooting stars of the Leonid meteor shower are not really stars. The Leonid meteors are debris left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which passes by the Earth every 34 years. Tempel-Tuttle is apparently a very messy comet. Every time it lays down a new trail, the Earth is treated to some spectacular showers.
For the particularly geeky out there, here are two ways to enhance your viewing experience that I first shared on the Perseids post: 1) count meteors and share your data with others. Learn how at Sky and Telescope. 2) Listen for meteor pings on Space Weather Radio.