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Leonids meteor shower 2020: Watch it peak in night skies

Active from Nov. 6 to Nov. 30, the Leonid meteor shower is expected to be at its peak from Monday night into Tuesday morning, or Nov. 16 to 17.

The Leonids are one of the most dazzling meteor showers and every few decades it produces a meteor storm where more than 1,000 meteors can be seen per hour. Cross your fingers for some good luck — the last time the Leonids were that strong was in 2002. Its parent comet is called Comet-Temple/Tuttle and it orbits the sun every 33 years.

The best you can probably expect this year is about 15 streaks per hour. But according to the International Meteor Organization, viewing conditions could be favorable as the moon is far from being full.

Where meteor showers come from If you spot a meteor shower, what you’re usually seeing is an icy comet’s leftovers that crash into Earth’s atmosphere. Comets are sort of like dirty snowballs: As they travel through the solar system, they leave behind a dusty trail of rocks and ice that lingers in space long after they leave. When Earth passes through these cascades of comet waste, the bits of debris — which can be as small as grains of sand — pierce the sky at such speeds that they burst, creating a celestial fireworks display.


A general rule of thumb with meteor showers: You are never watching the Earth cross into remnants from a comet’s most recent orbit. Instead, the burning bits come from the previous passes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower you are seeing meteors ejected from when its parent comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, visited in 1862 or earlier, not from its most recent pass in 1992.

That’s because it takes time for debris from a comet’s orbit to drift into a position where it intersects with Earth’s orbit, according to Bill Cooke, an astronomer with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

How to watch The best way to see a meteor shower is to get to a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, that would be somewhere with dark skies, away from city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of catching the show, look for a spot that offers a wide, unobstructed view.

It is best to use your naked eye to spot a meteor shower. Binoculars or telescopes tend to limit your field of view. You might need to spend about half an hour in the dark to let your eyes get used to the reduced light. Stargazers should be warned that moonlight and the weather can obscure the shows. But if that happens, there are usually meteor livestreams like the ones hosted by NASA

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