Coming from Leo, the Leonids happen from November 14 through November 21, with a peak on November 17.
Although only 10-15 meteors are created an hour, half of them leave a long-lasting trail across the sky. However on November 17, there will be a waning gibbous moon, making any kind of meteor difficult to watch.
The Leonid meteor storm on November 16, 1833, is assessed to have delivered up to 200,000 falling stars 60 minutes!
November’s wonderful Leonid meteor shower happens every year around November 17 or 18, as our world crosses the orbital path of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Like many comets, Tempel-Tuttle litters its orbit with bits of debris. It’s when this cometary debris enters Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes that we see the Leonid meteor shower.
In 2019, the peak of the shower is expected to be from midnight to dawn on Monday, November 18. However, a waning gibbous moon will light up the morning sky this year, to obtrude on this year’s Leonid meteor shower. In a dark sky, absent of moonlight, you can see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour at its peak.
When to see them
When should you watch for Leonid meteors in 2019? Knowing what time to watch is easy. As with most meteor showers, the best time to watch the Leonids is usually between the hours of midnight and dawn. The expected peak morning is Monday, November 18. That’s the morning (not the evening) of November 18.
Where to see the Leonids
The Leonid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Leo, where its meteors appear to originate. But you can look in just about any direction to enjoy the show, said NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke. If you directly face Leo, you may miss the meteors with longer tails.
Although the meteor shower might be a bit easier to see from the Northern Hemisphere, skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere should be able to see the show as well. “They’re not quite as good, but almost as good,” said Cooke. “The Leonids are an OK shower from the Southern Hemisphere.”
What causes the Leonids?
The Leonid meteor shower happens every year in November, when Earth’s orbit crosses the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet makes its way around the sun every 33.3 years, leaving a trail of dust rubble in its wake.
When Earth’s orbit crosses this trail of debris, pieces of the comet fall toward the planet’s surface. Drag, or air resistance, in Earth’s atmosphere cause the comet’s crumbs to heat up and ignite into burning balls of fire called meteors. [How Comets Cause Meteor Showers]
These comet crumbs are usually the size of a grain of sand or a pea, so they tend to burn up entirely before striking Earth’s surface. Meteors that survive the whole journey to the ground are called meteorites. But the Leonid meteor shower likely won’t deliver any meteorites.
What do you need to see them?
Meteors will be visible to the naked eye, so you won’t need any special equipment to see them.
“Go outside, find a dark sky, lie flat on your back and look straight up,” Cooke said, “and be prepared to spend a couple of hours outside.”
Given that the meteors are fairly sparse and take place during a cold time of year, it is best to bundle up, relax.