Leonid meteor shower
The fastest shooting stars of the year are racing towards Earth
By Karim Belbachir
November 15, 2023, 6:19 pm
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When the clouds clear over the weekend, it’s worth taking a look at the sky: the Leonids are shining again in the night sky. You can then see up to 25 shooting stars every hour. NTV meteorologist Pfaff reveals where this is best possible in Germany.
The fastest shooting stars of the year will light up the sky in Germany next weekend. We are talking about the Leonids, a meteor shower whose orbit crosses the Earth every November. The meteors are debris from comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. This celestial body was first discovered in 1865.
Since early November, fragments of the comet have entered Earth’s atmosphere, where they burn like fireballs. They reach their peak this Friday and Saturday. So, about 10 to 25 shooting stars will be visible in the night sky every hour.
What makes the weather stand out?
But what good are the most beautiful shooting stars if the weather doesn’t cooperate? NTV meteorologist Carlo Pfaff has hardly any good news: “It doesn’t look very good. On the night of November 17th, there may be some gaps in the clouds over the North Sea and Alps, but you have to be lucky. on the night of the 18th there will be larger cloud gaps in a band that goes from the North Sea, through Hesse, to Lower Bavaria, in other regions things still don’t look good.” Patience and a little luck are needed to be able to see the sprinters of the sky.
At its peak, only a maximum of 25 shooting stars can be seen per hour, but activity is subject to strong fluctuations. Approximately every 33 years, as Comet Temple-Tuttle itself approaches Earth, the number increases dramatically. Every hour, 300 to 500 meteors light up the night sky. However, this will not be the case again until 2033 and beyond. From time to time there are up to several thousand. If Earth passes through a particularly dense meteor shower cloud, there could be more than 1,000 shooting stars. However, this is not expected until 2094.
However, it is not only during the comet’s journey into the solar system that more shooting stars can be seen. Last year, for example, up to 250 meteors could be seen in the sky every hour at its peak. Meteor researchers calculated that in 1733 a large cloud of debris was separated from the main Leonid stream by the solar wind and gravitational effects. It can be seen in 2022.
Leonidas runs towards the earth
A special feature that sets the Leonidas apart is their high speed. They are considered the fastest shooting stars among the main meteor showers. They race across the sky at an impressive 71 kilometers per second (about 255,600 kilometers per hour). This speed of the Leonids is possible because they move in the opposite direction to the Earth’s orbit.
By the way, the Leonidas owe their name to the constellation Leo, from where they approach the Earth. The best visibility is after midnight until dawn. Dawn is better.