'Spectacular fireworks' of Leonid meteor shower visible with naked eye
The night sky will be filled with “spectacular fireworks” as a meteor shower strikes the Earth this whole week.
The Leonid meteor shower will be visible across Canada and much of the rest of the world on clear nights between Monday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 17 — with the optimal viewing times being Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
While people won’t need a telescope to see the heavenly light show, physics and astronomy professor Paul Delaney at York University in Toronto says patience and warm clothing may be required for those watching outside.
“This is a spectacular fireworks display. This is one where everybody can sit back and enjoy it,” he said in an interview with CTV News Channel Monday. “With a little bit of light, (people) could be really turned onto astronomy.”
For the best view, stargazers should look towards the eastern horizon between 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. during the weekdays.
People can see the meteor shower without a telescope because of the high speed at which the debris from the Tempel–Tuttle comet is traveling.
The comet particles will be moving at around 70 kilometres per second when they crash into the Earth’s atmosphere, giving off the bright lights that will be visible from down below.
“At that speed, they generate a phenomenal amount of friction as they pass through our upper atmosphere and that makes them glow to incandescence,” Delaney explained. “These are the ‘shooting stars’ we’re all familiar with.”
He predicted that because the debris is so broken up, sky watchers could see between 15 to 20 meteorite sightings in an hour during the peak times on Saturday and Sunday.
But for the best views, people might need to get away from city lights where the skies will be darker and “the fainter ones (meteorites) will become visible to you,” Delaney said.
The Tempel–Tuttle comet orbits the sun and every mid-November, people are able to see it as the Earth crosses its debris stream. Debris will range from the size of sand particles to that of a baseball.
If you are in Toronto and looking for a warm place to see the show, York University is offering up a chance to catch a glimpse of the meteor showers this whole week.
The university’s event takes place at the top of the Arboretum Lane Parking Garage on its campus. The university will also be offering a constellation tour and general telescope observing of the night sky.
When it comes to whether people could be hit by celestial debris, Delaney said people shouldn’t be worried.
“I think the odds of you hitting the Lotto Max is probably much better, but it’s highly unlikely,” he said. “But it is possible.”
“We get a lot of meteorite strikes on the planet every single day, so I guess it is slightly more probable during the Leonids but the chances are really, really, really low,” he laughed.
The debris from the Tempel-Tuttle comet appears to have originated from the Leo constellation, which is one of the more easily recognizable ones because of its distinctive shape reminiscent of a crouching lion.
Although the meteor shower might be a bit easier to see from the Northern Hemisphere, people in the Southern Hemisphere will be able to see it as well.