Another blast from the Leonids?

A strong outburst of shooting stars is predicted to occur over the UK and Ireland this weekend. Astronomers say western Europe will be the best part of the world to witness a dramatic show before dawn on Sunday, 19 November.

It will happen as the Earth ploughs through a stream of dusty debris left by a comet called Tempel-Tuttle.

The meteor shower, called the Leonids, produced intense displays between 1998 and 2002. The show has been waning since each November as our orbit crossed that of the comet dust.

But this year, experts say the Earth will pass through a particularly dense, narrow, ribbon of dust before dawn on Sunday.

Meteor expert David Asher of Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland, says the outburst will occur for around half an hour from about 4.30am until 5am. He predicts that UK and Irish observers with clear, dark skies will see a rate of 150 meteors an hour.

In 1998, the Leonids produced an amazing night of fireballs because the Earth passed through a stream of rock-sized debris ejected from the comet in the 14th century. This year we will encounter a trail of finer dust that was left by the comet on a much more recent passage in 1932.

The shower is called the Leonids because the meteors will all appear to come from the direction of Leo in the sky. Britain will be on the side of the world facing almost directly into the oncoming shower which will give a big boost to observed rates. For more details of the shower, visit the SPA’s November meteor page.

Eastern parts of North America might catch some of the activity at around 11.45 EST on Saturday night (18 November) but the meteors will be skimming into the atmosphere at a low angle and so will be less frequent. More here from Sky & Telescope.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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