Astronomers weren’t expecting much from this year’s incarnation of the Leonid meteor shower, but those flecks of rock smacking into Mother Earth’s atmosphere have surprised observers by producing an inordinate number of fireballs, against a dark backdrop due to a new crescent moon.
The Leonids, the remnants of comet Tempel-Tuttle, tend to light up the sky with a sprinkling of sand-grain-sized meteorites that cast a subtle glow, for those with the patience and persistence to observe over hours. The meteor shower peaked this past weekend, with what many said was something of a paltry display, and that was supposed to be that.
But the Leonids won’t quit. Instead of fading into astronomical history, they are peaking yet again, giving those of us who did not get to see them over the weekend another chance. Passing through another debris stream from the comet, the Leonids can be seen overnight from November 19 to 20, according to Space.com.
The Leonids are so named because they appear to emanate from the constellation Leo, which rises in the northeast at 11 p.m. local time, Space.com says. Although this year’s display so far has been especially weak, Space.com said, with five to 10 meteors per hour, the Leonids have been known to explode into fireballs as they incinerate upon entry into Earth’s atmosphere. They come from the debris field left behind by Tempel-Tuttle during its visit to the inner solar system, which happens every 33 years.
“With each visit the comet leaves behind a trail of dust in its wake,” Space.com says. “Much of the comet’s old dusty trails litter the mid-November part of Earth’s orbit and the Earth glides through this debris zone every year.”
And those that did fall put on decent displays, as evidenced on this photo gallery at Space.com.