Leonids set to light up the sky

The 2017 Leonid Meteor Shower hits its peak tonight – Friday – and tomorrow night, affording sleep deprived astronomers, professional and amateur, a spectacular show.

The Leonids are visible from Earth every year, peaking mid-November. They are debris from the tail of a massive comet called Tempel-Tuttle – first discovered in the 1860s – which orbits every 33 years.

On peak years, the meteor shower can be extremely intense, with as many as 50,000 visible per hour. This year won’t be anywhere near as spectacular, with astronomers predicting only 10 to 20 per hour streaking across the sky.

On the other hand, visibility (cloud cover notwithstanding) is likely to be excellent. A new moon kicks off on November 18, so the sky will be appropriately dark. 

The meteors are called Leonids because they appear to come out of the constellation Leo. However, they should be visible pretty much across the sky. Veteran meteor-spotters advise that the best technique to deploy involves lying on your back somewhere nice and staring upwards.

The best times for viewing are between 3am and sunrise – and the best place, of course, is as far away from ambient light pollution as possible. If the opportunity presents, therefore, pack up the car after work today and head for the hills!

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