Just a week after a total lunar eclipse turned November’s full moon into a rusty-reddish color, another notable sky event is on the way. This time it’s the 2022 Leonid meteor shower, which is set to reach its peak in the coming days.
Known as one of the top meteor showers in the fall season because of its bright fireballs, the Leonids are expected to be at their best from the late-night hours on Thursday, Nov. 17, into the early-morning hours on Friday, Nov. 18, according to astronomy experts. And some say there could be a bigger burst of shooting stars early Saturday morning, Nov. 19.
During an average year, the Leonid shower usually generates 10 to 15 meteors per hour in dark areas away from city lights. And some years this shower has had massive outbreaks of bright fireballs, numbering in the hundreds.
“While it might not live up to its historical reputation, it could end up being one of the best astronomy events of the year,” AccuWeather said in a preview of the 2022 Leonids.
AccuWeather says two meteor experts from the American Meteor Society have analyzed the timing of when the Earth will move through different trails of space debris from a comet known as 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, and they believe our planet could see the biggest burst of shooting stars early Saturday morning.
If their analysis is correct, AccuWeather says, sky watchers “could see anywhere from 50 to 200 meteors per hour” during a short time-frame on Saturday. (They say the main window for that big burst could be between 1 am and 1:30 am Eastern time Saturday.)
Other experts, however, aren’t convinced that the Leonids will put on a spectacular sky show this year. But they say it’s still worth watching late Thursday night, early Friday morning and again late Friday night into early Saturday.
The EarthSky astronomy website agrees the Leonid meteor shower sometimes over-performs, with huge numbers of shooting stars. But, “in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than roars.”
Experts say the Leonids are already visible in small numbers and will continue to be visible through Dec. 2, but the next few days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) will feature the biggest numbers.
When and where to look
First things first. You can see the Leonid meteors from almost anywhere, but experts say you will increase your chances if you go to a park or open area in a rural place, as far away as possible from bright city lights and street lights.
Bring a blanket or a lawn chair for comfort, and bundle up, because temperatures are running far below normal in our region this week. And give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark sky when you’re looking up.
Thrillist.com says “the best time to see the Leonids will be after midnight and toward morning local time” on Friday. “The earlier end of that window may be best, though, because the last quarter moon will be rising after midnight, “possibly obscuring your view of fainter meteors.”
As to which part of the sky to look at, Thrillist recommends looking near the constellation Leo, which is the Leonids’ radiant — the area of the sky where the meteors appear to be originating from as they shoot out.
“However, don’t look right at the radiant,” the website says. “The meteors will be moving away from that point. You’ll see more meteors by looking anywhere else in the sky.”
Space.com says the Leonids are among the fastest meteors of any major shower, “zipping through the sky at 44 miles per second.” Rapid speeds like that “tend to produce bright and colorful meteors with hues of white, blue, aquamarine and even green, which leave long-lasting streaks or trains in their wake,” the space website notes.
Final full moon of 2022
The last of 12 full moons of 2022 will be shining in the night sky on Wednesday, Dec. 7, officially turning full at 11:08 pm Eastern time.
Its most common nickname is the “cold moon,” because it appears when the chill of winter starts to set in.
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Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njaadvancemedia.com.