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 at the weekend, it’s worth taking a look at the sky: the Leonids flash again in the night sky. You will then be able to see up to 25 shooting stars every hour. ntv meteorologist Pfaff reveals where this can be done in Germany.
The fastest shooting stars of the year will light up the sky above 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 the beginning of November, fragments of the comet enter the Earth’s atmosphere, where they burn in the form of fireballs. They reach their peak this Friday and Saturday. So every hour 10 to 25 shooting stars will be visible in the night sky.
What makes the weather a highlight?
But what use are the most beautiful shooting stars if the weather doesn’t cooperate? ntv meteorologist Carlo Pfaff has almost no good news: “It doesn’t look very good. On the night of November 17th there could be some breaks in the clouds over the North Sea and the Alps, but you have to be lucky. Up on the night of the 18th there will be larger cloud areas in a band from the North Sea through Hesse to Lower Bavaria, in the other regions the situation is not yet promising.” Patience and a little luck are needed to be able to see the sprinters in the sky.
At the peak only a maximum of 25 shooting stars can be seen per hour, but the activity is subject to strong fluctuations. About every 33 years, when Comet Temple-Tuttle itself approaches Earth, the number increases dramatically. Every hour, 300 to 500 meteors light up the night sky. However, this will no longer be the case until 2033 and beyond. Every now and then there are even several thousand. If Earth passes through a particularly dense meteor cloud, there may be more than 1,000 shooting stars. However, this is not expected until 2094.
But it is not only during the comet’s journey within the solar system that more shooting stars can be observed. Last year, for example, at its peak, up to 250 meteors could be seen every hour. Meteorologists calculated that in 1733 a large cloud of debris was separated from the main course of the Leonids by solar wind and gravitational effects. It could be seen in 2022.
The Leonids rush towards the earth
A special feature that distinguishes the Leonids is their high speed. They are considered the fastest shooting stars among the major meteor showers. They race across the sky at an impressive speed of 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 Leonids owe their name to the constellation Leo, from which they approach the Earth. The best visibility is after midnight until dawn. Sunrise is the best.