2012 Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

Early Leonids captured on Nov. 14, 2012 in Ohio. Credit: John Chumack

The annual Leonid Meteor Shower has already begun, according to astrophotographer John Chumack in Ohio, who said he captured a dozen or so via his night sky video cameras earlier this week. But the peak for the Leonids this year is expected to be this weekend, and the best viewing should be during the hours before dawn on November 17, according to the editors of StarDate magazine at the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory

Every year about this time Earth passes through the debris field left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The tiny grains of dust enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, sometimes leaving glowing dust trails, which we call meteors.

Graphic via StarDate magazine of the Leonid meteor shower.

If you wait until the hours before dawn this weekend, the Moon will be below the horizon, so its light will not interfere with seeing meteors. Astronomers says that with clear skies, viewers can expect to see about 15 to 20 meteors per hour, though the shower has proved highly variable in recent years.

Though the meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Leo, which will be in the eastern sky in the early morning hours, the meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky.

If you capture any images of the meteor shower, share them with Universe Today by uploading them on our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Here’s another look at John Chumack’s early Leonids.

The Draconid Meteor Shower – A Storm is Coming!

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The Draconids are coming! Will this meteor shower produce a storm of observable meteors, or just a minor squall? The Draconid Meteor Show should begin on October 8, 2011 starting at dusk (roughly 19:00 BST) and continue through the evening. Peak activity of this normally minor and quiet shower is estimated to be at 21:00 BST (20:00 UT). There seems to be a wide range of predictions for this year’s shower, but some astronomers believe there could be up to 1,000 meteors per hour, making this a meteor storm!

The Draconids or Giacobinids as they are also known, radiate from a point in the constellation of Draco the Dragon in the Northern hemisphere. In the past, notably in 1933 and 1946, the Draconids turned into a meteor storm with meteor rates of more than one every second!

So, will this year bring us a storm? Astronomers believe so as the predicted path of the Earth through the debris streams of comet 21P/Giacobini-Ziner is favorable for a major storm, similar to what has been seen in previous years. Some reports say NASA is even considering the potential risk of damage to the International Space Station and other satellites due to meteroid impacts.

Some astronomers, on the other hand, are saying this shower could be a dud, with only 5 or so meteors per hour.

Credit: Alex Tudorica

Observers in the UK and Northern Europe are ideally placed to see the peak of the Draconids. Unfortunately the peak occurs in the day time for North America. There will also be a bright Moon which may drown out many but the brightest meteors, but if predictions are correct, you will still see many. You may see Draconid meteors on the 7th an the 9th also, so it is worth going out and checking the skies.

The Constellation Draco in the northern sky in the northern hemisphere.

Draco is a circumpolar constellation visible all night from northern latitudes.

There is no skill or even astronomical knowledge needed to enjoy meteor showers. All you need is to be comfortable, away from bright lights and your eyes. Sit back on a recliner or garden chair and fill your gaze with sky as meteors can appear anywhere as they radiate from the constellation of Draco. For more info on how to enjoy meteor showers visit meteorwatch.org

So what will you see? Draconid meteors are usually slow and bright streaks of light, but if you look away, you can still miss them so keep your gaze on the sky.

There are no guarantees of a meteor storm or even a good meteor shower as these phenomena can be very unpredictable, but the only way to find out is to go outside and look up.

If predictions are correct, you could be in for a spectacular treat and something truly memorable, so don’t miss it. Even if it is cloudy, you can listen to the meteor shower or you can watch as they enter Earths atmosphere

For more information on the Draconids, see the International Meteor Organization’s post on this year’s shower.

Good Luck!

Fireball Meteor
Credit: Pierre Martin of Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.