Leonid meteor shower: time, location and a guide to the Leonids

During the 2019 Perseid Meteor Shower Leo from July 21 – August 11, the Leo meteor shower is expected to be at its peak, bringing the longest visibility. During a Leo meteor shower, rising…

Leonid meteor shower: time, location and a guide to the Leonids

During the 2019 Perseid Meteor Shower Leo from July 21 – August 11, the Leo meteor shower is expected to be at its peak, bringing the longest visibility. During a Leo meteor shower, rising in the early hours of morning, viewers should spot a waxing crescent moon that will not be difficult to see in the sky.

However, in a more traditional display, on 1 October (30 October in the UK), Leonids will be visible during the night hours when the meteor shower will peak. However, this year the Leonids will occur on the night of 3 October, and during October the dark sky time to view these brief but spectacular meteors will be very limited, because of the moon, which will set after 4.15am GMT, and before dawn again on 4 October.

Photographer Ini Rugute (@IniRugute) captured the Leonids Auriga Cephei over Lugano, Switzerland. Dec 21 2018.

Also, the Leonids’ peak is sometimes known as “the Fireball shower” and this is because it has the highest maximum rate of meteors and the largest number of meteors (more than 200) on a single night. Here too, the moon will set after 9pm and is too close to be seen, but the minimum point of the shower will occur at 3:28am GMT on 3 October when the constellation Leo will appear around four hours west of the sun and will be just two degrees above the horizon. To give you an idea of the apparent size of the horizon, the full moon is estimated to be 1.67m kilometres in diameter, whereas Earth will be 23.4m kilometres in diameter.

The Leonids are one of the two oldest showers of its kind, along with the Perseids, whose peak is less spectacular (though still impressive). The other oldest one, Quetzalcoatl, which gives rise to the Navidad meteor shower (Quetzalcoatl is from Mexico) occurs every century or so and peaks in Mesoamerica in October and November.

Predictions for this year’s Leonids Leonids-Quetzalcoatl meteor shower are in the chart above, below. Those who are actually somewhere with dark skies will be able to observe the Leonids in the early morning hours when the meteors are at their peak.

If you want to make the effort to study the night sky, you can always make out the motion of the meteors by using an electronic star-finder, like a TPS.

Beyond that, with the exception of last year when the display was mild, if not lacklustre, 2013 might be a good year for the US when it comes to the Leonids.

Assuming the Earth’s orbit doesn’t shift – ie that it stays within the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which goes around the sun once every 33 years – there will be no rush to the comet, which now lies between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Hence, in 1991 – 30 years after the original spacecraft was launched – and once again 20 years after the first craft flew past the comet, there will be only one flyby: on 5 October, 20 years after the original payload was launched, another spacecraft will approach the comet again.

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