If you enjoy gazing into the night sky, you are in for a special treat as the the Leonid meteor shower reached its peak tonight and into Saturday morning.
The Leonid meteors are leftover debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, the ice surrounding the rock begins to melt. This causes pieces of the comet to break off, leaving a trail of debris. Each November, the earth passed through the debris field, providing a wonderful opportunity for star gazers to catch a glimpse of several meteors per hour. Bill Cooke, who is with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center's Meteoroid Environment Office,
Leonid meteor shower
says this year's peak shower should yield approximately 15-20 meteors per hour.
The meteors were named Leonids because the meteor trails can be traced back to the Leo constellation. The meteors are fast, moving at more than 40 miles per second according to Astronomy.com. The speed at which they travel will often times leave a smoke trail that can last for several seconds. The meteors are also quite bright, typically giving off a white or bluish-white color.
The peak time to view the meteor shower will be Saturday between 3 to 4:30 a.m EST. Although the Leonids are bright, they are best viewed in an area with no street lights
Ben Burress, an astronomer at the Chabot Space and Science Center, told National Geographic:
"It's amazing to think that these pieces of dust are often specks of material left over from the formation of the solar system , captured by the comet and transported into our part of the solar system. They are often 4.5-billion-year-old bits, and we see them vaporize in a flash!"