Leonid meteor shower: Saturday night's peak to spark 20 meteors per hour in the night sky

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
November 17, 2018, 6:19:54 PM EST

This weekend will bring one of the last major meteor shows of the year as the Leonids streak across the sky.

This shower is famous for sparking spectacular meteor storms that, in the past, have showcased hundreds of thousands of meteors per hour, but a storm like this is not anticipated during the Leonids this year.

“Twenty meteors per hour are likely through the peak, which makes it more active than the recent Taurid meteor shower,“ AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.

Although the peak of the Taurids has passed, people may spot a few stragglers while out looking for the Leonids, adding to the total number of meteors visible per hour.


Several Leonids meteors are seen streaking through the sky over Joshua Tree National Park, Calif., looking to the south in the Southern California desert in this approximately 25-minute time exposure ending at 3:45 a.m. PST (11:45 UT) Sunday, Nov. 18, 2001. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

“The Leonids are often bright meteors with a high percentage of persistent trains,” the American Meteor Society said.

This will make them easy to spot in the night sky, although light pollution may wash out some of the meteors.

The second half of the night will be the best time to view the Leonids after the moon has set and the shower’s radiant point, or point of origin, is high in the sky.

“The meteors radiate from the Leo constellation in the northeastern part of the sky,” Samuhel said.

Although the Leonids will radiate from the northeast, onlookers will be able to see meteors appear in all areas of the sky, weather permitting.

Meteor shower Nov 17

The best viewing conditions on the peak of the Leonids is expected across the interior West and the southeastern United States.

"Dry weather may dominate the north-central and western United States," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

The exception to this will be from Colorado to Ohio where clouds and some snow are expected on Saturday night.

"It will be a bitterly cold night from the northern Rockies to the northern Plains with temperatures in the single digits and teens in most areas," according to Pydynowski. "Be sure to bundle up when heading outdoors to avoid hypothermia."

"Some clouds may streak into the Northeast's I-95 corridor, but even where there are enough breaks in the clouds, brisk winds will not make it a pleasant night to sit out to watch the meteors," Pydynowski added.

Some patchy clouds may get in the way of some meteors in the Desert Southwest, but people should still be able to see some meteors in these regions.

Stargazers will be able to see some of the Leonids in the nights leading up to and following the shower’s peak, although in fewer numbers.

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People planning to head outside this weekend for the peak of the meteor shower should bundle up for the chilly November nights and find a spot away from city lights.

“City, state and national parks are often great places to watch meteor showers. Be sure to go to the park early in the day and find a wide-open area with a good view of the sky in all directions,” EarthSky said.

Additionally, avoiding looking at lights and cell phone screens will allow your eyes adjust to the dark, making it easier to see dimmer meteors.

meteor storm

Leonid meteor storm, as seen over North America on the night of November 12-13, 1833. This woodcut was published in 1888 by E. Weib in his Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (Image/Illustrated Atlas of the Stars/Wikimedia Commons)

While the Leonids are expected to be a standard shower this year, they are famous for historic meteor storms boasting thousands of meteors per hour.

“In fact, you could say that the Leonids have produced the most impressive shows in recorded history,” Samuhel said.

“I personally witnessed the most recent storm [in 2001]. I observed what seemed to be several meteors at once in the sky all night long. But, the 2001 show pales in comparison to 1966 and 1833,“ Samuhel said.

People that witnessed the storm in 1833 were said to have seen as many as 200,000 meteors per hour.

“The Leonids storm of 1833 was probably the the most intense meteor storm in recorded history," Samuhel said.

These Leonid meteor storms typically occur once every 33 years, making the next chance for one not until the early 2030s.

Questions or comments? Email Brian Lada at Brian.Lada@accuweather.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter!

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