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Explained: What is the Leonid meteor shower, when can Indians best watch it?

17th November, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: 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 timeanddate.com.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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. T
  • he 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.