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Watch Leonid Showers Tonight as Sky Sparkles with ‘Shooting Stars’

Photograph of 1966 storm

Photograph of 1966 storm (NASA)

Tuesday night will push the Leonid meteor shower reaching its peak in the sky and anybody venturing out during the pre-dawn on Wednesday will get to see the maximum number of showers in the sky.

The visual treat in the sky shower brilliant “shooting stars” by Leonid meteor showers, so named after the constellation Leo, can appear everywhere in the sky and not necessarily in the Leo form.

Otherwise, the Leonid meteors are the fastest shooting stars hitting Earth at speeds around 162,000 miles per hour (261,000 KMPH) producing spectacular visual effects resembling the Diwali crackers. Since the moon will set in at 10 PM on Tuesday night, the timing will coincide with the shower, said Joe Rao of Space.com.

Unlike in the past, this year the showers will subdued at 10 to 20 per hour and not in tens of thousands as in the past. Those who miss can expect to be alert to watch the g
eminids next, the other year-end meteor showers which occur in December and this year it was expected around Dec. 13 night and Dec. 14 morning.

Long history of the Leonid Showers:

The first reference to Leonid showers was made in an annecdotal account in 868 AD, the ever changing orbit of a yet undiscovered comet crossed the Earth’s orbit on the inside for the first time. The comet’s orbit had been gradually changing in previous centuries. Shortly thereafter, in 902 AD, Chinese astronomers and observers in what is now Egypt and Italy reported seeing the first Leonid storm. Writers referred to it as: “Stars fell like rain”.

In 1630 AD, Johannes Kepler died on Nov. 15, 1630 and at his funeral two days later the Leonids lit up the sky, which was accounted for as a salute from God in “Tycho and Kepler”.

In 1799 Meteors puzzle scientists in the Americas and the renowned German scientist Humboldt in Cumana (Venezuela) at the time, recorded the event and make it widely known in the scientific community. Again in 1833, it was recorded with very intense showers and the event led to formulation of a theory on the origin of meteors.

Another writer John Sharp said from the diary of Michael Shiner, Nov. 12 1833 that “The Meteors fell from the elements the 12 of November 1833 on Thursday in Washington. It frightened the people half to death.”

In 1899 Paris scientists launched a balloon with the first meteor airborne astronomer Dorothea Klumpke as meteors crossed the sky, but the sharp main peak of past Leonid storms was not observed. The comet also did not show itself again.

Again in 1932, with rates went up again, though a big storm was not observed. At the time, it was thought that the shower was lost because of a close encounter with Uranus prior to the 1899 return. In 1965, the Comet P/Tempel-Tuttle was re-discovered after almost half-a-century.

From 1994 the first increase of Leonid rates announcing the return of the comet was reported and astronomer Peter Jenniskens was among the first to notice the high Leonid rates on November 18 that year, when the shower was as strong as the Perseids in August.

“The night before, we had organised an observing effort for this one, but were all clouded out. Guess my surprise, when I arrived home late the next night and saw one bright Leonid after another. I sat down on my lawnchair and enjoyed the view in bright Moon- and city-light for the next hour and a half.” wrote Peter Jenniskens

The parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle was finally seen on March 10, 1997, following an accurate prediction of its orbit, and passed perihelion on February 28, 1998.

In 2000, outbursts confirmed dust trail models as observed by Leonid MAC participants from ground locations in Florida, Arizona and Spain, and from a Cessna aircraft over Florida.

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