Home > Stargazing > Leonids Meteor Shower 2012

Leonids Meteor Shower 2012

One of the year’s regular meteor showers, the Leonids, happens this weekend, peaking at around 0930 on 17 November 2012. It (usually*) isn’t one of the very active showers (such as the Perseids, Geminids or Quadrantids), with the maximum rate in a normal year between 10-20 meteors per hour in perfect conditions.

The peak of the Leonids is quite broad, lasting several days, so between now and early next week it’s worth looking up to see if you can catch a glimpse of any shooting stars. The best time to view the Leonids shower is in the pre-dawn hours, but any time after 11pm on Thursday through to Tuesday night should mean you’ll see at least a few meteors.

How to see the Leonids Meteor Shower

1. Find somewhere dark with as little light pollution as possible. The countryside is best, but if you’re stuck in a city try and get away from as many lights as possible.
2. Bring a reclining deck chair. Standing outside looking up for long stretches of time gets uncomfortable.
3. Bring a blanket. It gets VERY cold outside at night in November.
4. Position yourself under your blanket on your reclining deck chair so that you take in as much of the sky as possible. Although the meteors all appear to radiate out of the constellation of Leo in the SE there’s no need to specifically face this direction as the meteors will streak across any part of the sky.
5. Wait. The rate of this shower isn’t very high, so you might only see one every five or ten minutes, maybe less often than that, so patience is a virtue.

* every 33 years the Leonids meteor shower turns into a meteor storm, in which the rates dramatically increase by a factor or 50 or more, up to perhaps several thousand meteors per hour. This regularity is due to the nature of the origin of the dust that causes these meteors. It comes from the tail of a comet, Comet Temple-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun once every 33 years. This means that the dust trail left behind by the comet – and subsequently hoovered up by the Earth to make a meteor shower at the same time every year – is refreshed every 33 years, resulting in a spike of activity for a few years afterward each pass of the comet. The comet last renewed the trail in 1998, and so the years 1999, 2001 and 2002 were all spectacular years for the Leonids, with storm rates peaking at 3000 Leonids per hour. I was lucky enough to see all of these showers, the most memorable being 2002 where in the space of just two hours under half-cloudy skies on the outskirts of Glasgow I saw over 300 shooting stars.

  1. November 15, 2012 at 22:56

    In the dark of the Moon in 2001, we counted over 1500 per hour before the radiant was high enough to see the other side. An estimate of zenithal peak rate at that high altitude site exceeded 3000 per hour. it was great in 2002, but a pale shadow of 2001.

  2. November 15, 2012 at 22:59

    One other thing: the leonids are really impressive because the trails are so long. The August Perseids may be brighter, but the Leonids never disappoint if you have, as we do this year, a midnight-to-dawn sky without a Moon.

  3. Melanie
    November 19, 2012 at 05:59

    I live in Hikurangi Northland New Zealand. I have glass bindfolds doors in my bedroom so before falling asleep lastnight I watched and counted 8 shooting stars within half an hour and thats only counting those within my view. Had I of gone out on my deck for a full 360 view or stayed awake longer no doubt I would have reached in the hundreds. I’m in the country side where it gets pitch black at night and the night views are amazing. Now I’ve seen your post it is obviously the Leonids shower. However that doesnt explain all the other weird stuff I see going on up there every night lol.

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