Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Thursday
All Leonid meteors appear to radiate from their namesake constellation, Leo, the lion, and this year skywatchers will have a couple of convenient guideposts to locate the phenomenon.
“At midnight the meteors, radiating from Leo, will be coming from the east point on the horizon, and since the moon and Mars are both inside the constellation Leo this year, they are perfect visual markers for the shower’s radiant point,” Burress said.
The Leonid meteor shower occurs when Earth plows through a trail of debris left in the wake of a comet orbiting the sun—in this case, the 1.2-mile-wide (2-kilometer-wide) comet Tempel-Tuttle.
Every 33 years, as this icy visitor gets close to the sun, melting ice releases pieces of dust—most no larger than a grain of sand—and deposits them in clumps along the comet’s orbit.
Earth annually crosses paths with these particle clouds, many of which burn up in our atmosphere and create fleeting shooting stars or meteors. Occasionally a larger object—more like a pebble or even a boulder—will produce a brilliant, slower moving fireball with smoke trails that can linger for a minute.