‘Intensely spectacular’ meteor storm will put on amazing display for Aussies tonight – here’s how you can watch the breathtaking ‘once-in-33-year’ event
- Streaks in night sky can be caused by cosmic particles as small as a grain of sand
- Leonids are some of the fastest meteors known, travelling at 71km per second
- Previous Leonid storms saw thousands of meteors per minute coming through
If you want an excuse to stay up late, or get up very early, then a Leonid meteor storm is a pretty good reason to burn the midnight oil.
An even better reason is the spectacular display happens roughly only once every 33 years, so if you miss this one it’s a long wait until the next one in 2054.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Space Weather Services says the meteor storm will be visible across Australian on Thursday morning.
A Leonid meteor storm over the Azrak desert, Jordan. A similar storm will be visible across Australia in the early hours of Thursday morning
‘Visually, the early morning hours of November 18 may see an intensely spectacular Leonid meteor storm,’ BOM’s website says.
Previous Leonid storms, such as one in 1966, have led to thousands of meteors per minute coming through the Earth’s atmosphere – so many that they seemed to fall like rain.
A meteor streaks into the earth’s atmosphere in this time exposure image over Tataka on Taiwan’s Jade Mountain.
BOM did not go so far as predicting a similar intensity for Thursday morning, though.
‘It is more probable however, that a much less intense shower of a few hundred meteors per hour will eventuate.’
ABOUT THE LEONIDS
The Leonids are usually one of the more prolific annual meteor showers, with fast, bright meteors associated with Comet 55P/Tempel–Tuttle.
The radiant (the point where the meteors seem to stream from) is at the head or ‘sickle’ of the constellation Leo the Lion, hence the name.
As the comet follows its path around the sun, it leaves a path of tiny debris.
The cometary debris enters our planet’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 43 miles (70 km) per second, vaporising and causing streaks of light.
Source: Royal Museums Greenwich
In the eastern states, the best time to look to the sky is around 3am local time (2am in Queensland), 2am local time in WA, and 3.30am local time in SA and the NT.
‘Rising early on this morning is probably a worthwhile activity, whatever eventuates,’ BOM said.
According to NASA, the Leonids are considered to be some of the fastest meteors known, travelling at speeds of 71 kilometres per second.
Meteors — also known as ‘shooting stars’ — are typically either bits of asteroids leftover from the formation of the solar system or, as in the case of the Leonids, material ejected from the disintegration of a comet as it passes near the Sun.
These beautiful streaks seen in the night sky can be caused by cosmic particles that are as small as a grain of sand.
‘The Leonids meteor shower is named after the constellation of Leo the lion,’ Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer Anna Gammon-Ross told MailOnline.
‘This is because, although meteors appear all over the sky, they all appear to emerge or radiate from a single point that lies within this constellation.’
How to watch the Leonid meteor showers across Australia
They are best viewed as far away as possible from city lights, as light pollution can drown out the spectacular show.
No special equipment is needed, but a clear sky would be a big help.
It can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark for the best view.
The Leonids – so called because they appear in the sky in the region of the constellation of Leo – are a stream of minute dust particles trailing behind the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which is visible from earth every 33 years
The meteors can come from any direction and will look brightest against the darkest part of the sky.
Some meteors pass very quickly and faintly, while the brighter ones appear to sail across the sky for several seconds, leaving a glowing smoke trail.
Lie on your back and look straight up for the best view, or get out a reclining chair if you don’t fancy getting wet.
And take some pictures to show your friends and family who didn’t stay up for the celestial space show. After all, it’s going to be a very long time before this happens again.
Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.
of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.