Like the Orionids in October, the Leonid meteor shower will have to fight the light of the full moon.
But if the debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle delivers, this shower emanating from the constellation Leo the Lion could emulate the phantasmagorical one of 1966—when tens of thousands of meteors showered upon the world in just 15 minutes on the morning of November 17, according to Earthsky.org.
“Indeed, on that beautiful night in 1966, the meteors did, briefly, fall like rain,” Earthsky.org recounts. “Some who witnessed the 1966 Leonid meteor storm said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground, so strong was the impression of Earth plowing along through space, fording the meteoroid stream.”
In 1833, the Leonids brewed up such a storm that numerous artists felt compelled to depict it in numerous woodcuts.
“Occasionally, the display turns sublime: Every 33 years or so, there have been instances of the Leonids producing meteors at a rate of about 1,000—or more—in an hour,” said Space.com. “However, this won't happen again until 2034.”
The peak mornings this year will be on November 17 and 18, Earthsky.org said. That’s before dawn, which means staying up late on Saturday night the 16th or getting up long before sunrise the morning after.
There is one hitch, though: The shower’s peak coincides almost to the minute with this month’s full moon.
“Projections for 2013 suggest a twin-peaked maximum, with the first peak arriving on November 17 at 5 a.m. EST favoring North America, and the second one reaching Earth on the same date six hours later at 11 a.m., favoring the central Pacific,” Universetoday.com said. “Unfortunately, the full moon also occurs on very date that the Leonids peak, at 10:16 a.m. EST, right between the two peaks! This will definitely cut down on the number of meteors you’ll see in the early a.m. hours.”
In other words it could be a bust. But the Leonids are also known as “dependable,” meaning they can be relied on to produce something worth wishing on. So try putting a tree between you and that luminous glowing-white orb in the sky to see some potential action when Leo the Lion roars. There may yet be some hope.
“In 2013, the moon will wash out all but the very brightest meteors from view,” Earthsky.org affirmed, but allowed for a glimmer of optimism. “Still, it is possible (but not optimal) to see meteors in bright moonlight. And the days before and after the peak might feature meteors as well, as we pass through the Leonid meteor stream in space.”
It’s still worth getting up early (or going to bed really, really late), especially as the moon nears the western horizon and, since it will be easier to block.
“Even if you don’t spot any meteors in the predawn hours, the planet Jupiter will be blazing high overhead,” Earthsky.org said. “And Mars will be in front of the constellation Leo, the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower.”
Those who care to grab a set of binoculars will be able to see comet ISON, which is becoming visible as it hurtles toward its Thanksgiving Day rendezvous with the sun on November 28.