The Leonid meteor shower peaks this evening and tomorrow evening, making for a great naked-eye observing event as we head into the weekend.

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The best time to see the 2022 Leonid meteor shower will be on the nights of 17/18 and 18/19 November.

The Leonid meteor shower is one of the most popular of the annual meteor showers, which are caused as Earth passes through streams of debris left behind by comets - and sometimes asteroids - on its journey around the Sun.

For more advice on spotting a meteor, read Pete Lawrence's complete guide to the Leonid meteor shower.

Leo constellation. Credit: Credit: CEDIC Team + Hubl Bernard / CCDGuide.com
Leonid meteors appear to emanate from the head of the Leo constellation. Credit: CEDIC Team + Hubl Bernard / CCDGuide.com

The effect on Earth is that we see 'shooting stars' or meteors: streaks of light that appear in the sky when grains of dust pass through our planet's atmosphere.

Leonid meteors can be seen every year between 10–20 November. They are fast meteors, entering the atmosphere at 77km/s, and are associated with the debris stream of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.

Find out when the next meteor shower is visible or discover what causes meteor showers

Chart showing the position of the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower 2022
Chart showing the position of the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

The radiant - the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to come - is in the curved portion of the Sickle asterism in the Leo constellation.

For reference, it's the section of the constellation that's supposed to represent the Lion's head.

How many Leonid meteors will we see?

The Leonid meteor shower has a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 15 meteors per hour.

This is the number of meteor showers that you could expect to see under optimal viewing conditions with the shower radiant directly overhead.

The Leonid meteor shower’s popularity is partly a result of a periodic increase in its ZHR every 33 years.

During these bursts in activity, Leonids can produce a spectacular display of 1,000–100,000 meteors per hour.

The next interesting period begins around 2032–2033, though, so we have a while to wait for the next one.

Nevertheless, a prediction has been made for a moderate ZHR enhancement during the Leonid meteor shower 2022, between 05:50 UT and 06:10 UT on the morning of 19 November, as the sky is brightening.

Watching a meteor shower doesn't require any fancy equipment: just clear, dark skies, warm clothing and some good company. Credit: Anthony Sabatino / EyeEm / Getty Images
Watching a meteor shower doesn't require any fancy equipment: just clear, dark skies, warm clothing and some good company. Credit: Anthony Sabatino / EyeEm / Getty Images

Top tips for seeing a Leonid meteor

  • Observe after midnight
  • Find a place away from the light pollution of towns and cities (providing it is safe to do so)
  • Locate the radiant in the night sky (use a star chart or smartphone astronomy app if need be)
  • Naked-eye observing is best, but give your eyes about 30 minutes to dark-adapt and you will see more
There are many smartphone astronomy apps available to help you navigate the night sky, including many that are free.
There are many smartphone astronomy apps available to help you find your way around the night sky, including many that are free. Just don't forget to put it on red light mode!
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  • If possible, bring a reclining chair to prevent neck ache from spending long periods of time looking up, and wrap up warm.
  • It is winter after all, and meteor observing involves a lot of standing still in open spaces.
  • If you see a meteor in the sky that appears to have come from the Leo constellation, chances are you've seen a Leonid meteor!

Authors

Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Content Editor. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.

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