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Explained: The Leonid meteor shower, and when best Indians can watch it

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 19-11-2020 Explained Desk
a star in the middle of the night © Provided by The Indian Express

The Leonid meteor showers are currently making their yearly appearance, and will reach their peak in India on November 17 and 18, according to Norway-based website In 2020, these showers are active from November 6th to November 30th.

The Leonids emerge from the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which requires 33 years to revolve once around the Sun. These meteors are bright and among the fastest moving– travelling at speeds of 71 km per second. During this year’s showers, peaks of around 10 to 15 meteors are expected to be seen every hour.

As per a CNN report, the Leonid showers include fireballs– bright and large meteors than can last longer than average meteors, and “earthgazers”– meteors which appear close to the horizon with colourful and long tails.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to be coming from. The Leonids originate from the constellation Leo the Lion– the groups of stars which form a lion’s mane.

What is a meteor shower?

On its journey around the Sun, the Earth passes through large swathes of cosmic debris. The debris is essentially the remnants of comets — great frigid chunks of matter that leave behind dirty trails of rocks and ice that linger long after the comets themselves have passed. As the Earth wades through this cloud of comet waste, the bits of debris create what appears from the ground to be a fireworks display in the sky — known as a meteor shower.

Several meteor showers can be seen around the year. According to NASA, over 30 meteor showers occur annually and are observable from the Earth. For instance, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August and was first observed over 2,000 years ago.

According to the International Meteor Organisation, the showers that are currently active are the Southern Taurids, the Northern Taurids and the Leonids. The remaining months of 2020 will have the Geminids (from December 4-20, peaking around December 13-14), and the Ursids (from December 17-26, peaking around December 21-22).

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What is the best way to see a meteor shower?

Meteors are best seen on a cloudless night, when the entire sky is visible, and when the Moon is not extremely bright. Chances of a successful viewing are higher from locations far away from the lights of cities. Luckily for star gazers this year, the Leonids will peak when the moon would be less than 5 per cent full.

The showers peak when the Earth passes through the densest part of the debris cloud. Peaks can last for a few hours or several nights. They tend to be most visible after midnight and before dawn. The showers should be seen with naked eyes; binoculars and telescopes narrow the field of vision.

The Leonids will be most visible in the Northern Hemisphere, but can also be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. India lies in the Northern Hemisphere. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

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