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This pre-Thanksgiving weekend will be a good time to wish upon a falling star.
Diminutive comet Tempel-Tuttle will cross Earth’s orbit Saturday and Sunday, spraying a vaporizing shower of debris into the surrounding atmosphere. The resulting stardust will look pretty great from our perspective here on earth, with about 10 to 15 meteors visible per hour throughout the weekend.
Tempel-Tuttle orbits our sun once every 33.3 years, and the annual Leonid meteor shower “season” takes place when Earth’s orbit crosses the comet’s orbit. The meteor shower is a result of tiny chunks of comet falling toward Earth’s surface. Air resistance from Earth’s atmosphere ignites the debris into the colorful, flaming balls of fire we call meteors.
According to CNN, the best time to witness meteor magic will be between midnight and dawn on both Saturday and Sunday. Urban dwellers will do best driving outside of town, away from the brightness pollution of city lights. While the Leonid meteor shower will send shooting stars across the sky all weekend, stargazers will get the best view Saturday morning around 3 am Eastern time, when the meteor shower peaks. And although the meteors are visible anywhere in the world, they will be clearer to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere.
Leonid gets its name from the constellation Leo, the Lion, as the space debris that forms the meteors comes from the stars in Leo’s mane. The bright, fast-moving chunks of Tempel-Tuttle move through space opposite or contrary to our orbital direction of motion, resulting in some of the fastest-moving meteors earth dwellers encounter. The Leonid meteors will appear across the sky as quick bursts of color, moving at a speed of 44 miles per second. Keep an eye out for “fireballs”, which are bright, large and can last longer than the average meteor. Meanwhile, “earthgrazers” will appear close to the horizon, identifiable by their long, colorful tails. If you’re looking to spot earthgrazers, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke says you’ll want to face away from Leo.
Featured photo by Stephen Shaver/AFP/Getty Images.
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