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You need to watch the fall's most unpredictable meteor shower in November

Some years it rains meteors. Other years it pours.

Geminid Meteor in the night sky of Penang Island
Jordan Lye/Moment/Getty Images

Towards the end of the year, the Leonids meteor shower takes center stage as some of the brightest and fastest fireballs grace our night skies.

The meteor shower begins to rain down on Earth’s atmosphere from November 6 to 30, peaking on November 17 this year. Although this year’s shower will have to compete with the shining light of a waxing gibbous Moon, you can still expect to see a few meteors scorch through the skies.

The Leonid meteor shower is famous for being bright and colorful, pumping out fireballs and Earth-grazing meteors that are known for being extremely bright. The Leonids meteor shower is also known for its speed, with meteors flying across the skies at a rate of 44 miles per second.

This year, the annual meteor shower will peak in the early morning hours of November 17.

What comet does the Leonids meteor shower come from?

Meteor showers are the broken-off remains from comets and asteroids. These rocky bodies are composed of frozen gas, dust, and other material, some of which dates back to the formation of the Solar System.

As these space rocks travel closer to the Sun, the star’s powerful gravitational pull can weaken them, breaking them apart as they draw near.

The dust forms a trail, which the Earth passes through every year as it orbits around the Sun. Some of that dust interacts with Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrates — forming the fiery streaks that we observe in the sky and call meteors.

The Leonids spring from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 33 years.

The comet was first discovered in 1865 and measures about 2.24 miles across.

When was the last Leonids meteor shower? When is the next Leonids meteor shower?

The Leonids meteor shower takes place each year around the same time. The last Leonids meteor shower peaked on November 17, 2020, producing 10 to 15 meteors per hour.

The 2022 Leonids meteor shower will similarly peak over the night of November 17 into November 18, but will be visible from November 6 to November 30, 2022.

How can I watch the Leonids meteor shower?

The best time to watch the Leonids meteor shower is after midnight.

This year, the shower takes place around the same time as the waxing gibbous Moon. That means the Moon is halfway through its periodic cycle, with about 50 percent of its total brightness. Although that doesn’t make for ideal conditions for meteor shower viewing, you can still catch a few of the Leonids streaking across the sky.

It is best to avoid city lights or get up on a rooftop to view the shower. You also want to block out any light coming from electronic devices or flashlights screens and allow your eyes to get accustomed to the darkness for around 30 minutes before you look up.

The Leonids appear as if they radiate from the constellation Leo, pictured.

IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

What direction do I look to see the meteor shower?

The radiant point for the Leonids meteor shower — the point in the sky from which the shower appears to radiate — is the Leo Constellation.

To see the Leonids, look towards the group of stars shaped like the lion’s mane in the northern sky between Cancer and Virgo and near the Big Dipper. The meteors will seem to originate from the constellation but can be seen across the sky.

The Leonids meteor shower appears to originate from a specific star in the Leo Constellation known as Gamma Leonis or Algieba. It is a binary star system and one of the brightest points in the night sky.

Will this year’s Leonids meteor shower be a Leonids storm?

When the meteor shower takes place at the same time that the comet is closest to the Sun, the Leonid meteor shower can produce up to hundreds or thousands of meteors per hour.

The first recorded meteor storm was in 1833, when hundreds of thousands of meteors fell every hour, becoming the first meteor storm to be witnessed in modern history.

Unfortunately, this year will not be such an event, but the shower still promises plenty of meteors. The Leonids meteor storms happen approximately every 33 years, with the last one taking place in 2001.

Meteor showers 2022

In 2021, we still have the Geminids and Ursids to look forward to. In 2022, The first meteor shower to kick off the New Year will be the Quadrantids meteor shower, which will peak on January 2.

The Lyrid meteor shower will follow in the springtime, from April 14, 2022, to April 30, 2022.

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