Every year between November 14 and 20, the Earth passes through the debris streams left behind by the passage of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. This debris falls through the atmosphere and becomes the Leonid Meteor Shower, so named because the meteors appear to originate from the mane of the lion of the constellation Leo. Most years, the showers are not very spectacular and only a few meteors are spotted. Every 33 to 34 years, however, the Comet Tempel-Tuttle crosses the Earth's orbit leaving behind a fresh supply of debris. In the years immediately following the passing of the comet, much greater activity is seen and in some cases meteor storms have occurred.

What can we expect this year?

This year, the same experts (astronomers from Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland) that correctly predicted the good and bad showers over the last several years are predicting a great show this year over Europe and the Americas despite the presence of a full moon. This year, we pass through the debris streams from the 1767 and 1866 passes of the parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle. The most recent storm was in 1966, where meteors appeared at a rate of 10,000 meteors per hour. Predictions for this year are higher than for last year (2001); however, there will be a full moon washing out the sky and dimmer meteors. Observers in the US may still be able to see around 100 meteors an hour. However, meteor counts are difficult to predict, so be prepared for anything!

If you are interested in counting meteors for the International Meteor Organization, Sky & Telescope provides these instructions.

When and where?

The best time for observing most meteor showers is usually right after midnight. This year one of the peaks in the Leonid Shower is at about 0400 UT (11pm EST) on the night of Nov. 18-19. A second peak occurs at about 1030UT (5:30am EST) on Tuesday 19 November. The chances of seeing meteors are naturally better if you can get away from the glare of city lights. This is particularly important this year with the moon creating so much glare. If you don't have a lot of time to spend traveling out of the city, you should check (ahead of time for permission) with your local city or county parks authority. For even darker skies, you can drive an hour or two to more remote state or national parks.

Other Leonids Links

Observing Reports

This year the weather cooperated nicely. No fog! Some areas had some light haze and partly cloudy skies but those cleared off for the most part by about 4am.

Submit your Leonids report and pics!

We would love to post your Leonids observations and photos so that others in the Region can vicariously experience the event.

  • Jim B., Severna Park, MD
    Just to let you know, I would [sic] up watching the shower from our local elementary school, and it was great! Not the storm I had been hoping for, but a couple per minute. Several other folks were there, some with their children; so I went home and woke up my 8-year-old girl. She was thrilled to be up at 5:00 AM wrapped in a sleeping bag on the back deck, with nothing but her face showing, watching her first falling stars! So I'm just as glad I stuck close to home for this one.
    As an unexpected bonus, we saw the Space Station fly overhead right around 5 AM.

  • Elizabeth W.
    After I finished my class (and helping the next one), I managed to leave the observatory by about 9:15pm. Class had been hindered by some heavy haze and partly cloudy skies, so I was very worried about the rest of the night. Once I got home, I checked several satellite images. My husband and I concluded that heading east would be our best bet. So from Alexandria, VA, we headed east on Highway 4 in Maryland, then onto 264 and 265, found a dirt road beside an empty field and parked. We arrived about 12:30am. He snoozed for the next several hours. I observed from the car but saw few meteors. I had an alarm set for about 4am (in case I fell asleep), but at 4 there wasn't much happening. Reset it to 4:30, still not much activity. Reset it to 5am, grabbed the feather blanket, fell asleep (didn't mean to but I was exhausted), jumped awake and saw a bright sky and thought that we had slept through, but it turned out to be because of the moon. Looked out just in time to see the ISS appear and head down into the SSE. Leaned out of the car and watched the sky for the next 35 minutes, but there really wasn't much activity, at least not like last year. There was more than a Perseid meteor shower, but not as impressive as last year's Leonids. In general, this year's were very fast, greenish, and not as many fireballs. Didn't take any photos cause the pics would've been too washed out by the moon.