The Leonid meteor shower will be peaking this weekend.

Meteoroids, commonly referred to as shooting stars, are space debris that have survived being accelerated towards the Earths gravitational field and penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere. As they enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 45,000 miles per hour, frictional forces heat them to incandescence – that is the emission of electromagnetic radiation due to heat. The result is a beautiful glowing object streaking across the night sky.

The debris that creates these spectacular events comes from small icy bodies known as comets and/or minor planets orbiting in the inner regions of our solar system known as asteroids.

These events actually happen every night, but on particular nights the number is significantly increased. Such an event is known as a meteor shower and are generally due to the Earth passing through the trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid. These types of meteor showers are periodic and are generally named after the constellations that they appear to be radiating from. This weekend the meteor shower will appear to be radiating from the constellation Leo and is thus known as the Leonid meteor shower. The source is comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, named after astronomers Wilhelm Tempel and Horace Tuttle who independently discovered it in December 1865 and January 1866, respectively. The comet orbits the Sun every 33 years and is currently just moving away from aphelion – the furthest distance from the in its orbit. So, although not as fantastic as when at its closest approach – perihelion – it is still favorable and peaks this weekend on the 18th November at 1am GMT.

To find out more details and information on how and where to view in both real and virtual time see the article below.

By: Amira Val Baker, RSF Research Scientist