Each year in November, a spectacular meteor shower known as The Leonids lights up the night sky in that region of the celestial heavens associated with the constellation Leo. Here are some fun facts on the Leonids, one of the 10 biggest annual meteor showers which has amazed stargazers for centuries:
1: The Leonids usually take place between November 13th and November 21st each year, peaking on around the 17th, when 20 to 30 bright meteors can be seen in the night sky every hour.
2: The meteor shower looks as though it is originating from the region of sky which holds the constellation of Leo. However, it is in fact caused by the Earth crossing the path of a dust and debris trail left behind by the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which then burns up in Earth‘s atmosphere producing meteors.
3: Once every 33.2 years when the Tempel-Tuttle comet completes its orbit around the Sun, a periodic meteor storm occurs when the intensity of the meteors increase dramatically and thousands of meteors can be seen every hour.
4: Most of the debris burning up in Earth’s atmosphere to produce the Leonid meteors are no bigger than 9 mm across and are generally the size of peas or grains of sand.
5: A meteoroid is the correct term for the debris while it still remains in Space, but it becomes a meteor (aka shooting star) when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. A meteoroid managing to reach the Earth’s surface and survive is then called a meteorite.
6: Although meteoroids generally range between the size of a grain of sand to a boulder, the Leonids are mostly comprised of “fluffy” sand or marble sized debris which invariably burns up about 60 miles above the Earth’s surface.
7: Historical records of the Leonids date back to 902 A.D, with the Chinese observers calling it the year “stars fell as rain” and Arab astronomers referring to it as the “Year of the Stars.”
8: The Great Leonid Meteor Storm of 1833 was so intense with an incredible two hundred thousand meteors being seen per hour in the night sky, that widespread panic broke out across the United States. Records show people describing the sky looking as though it was on fire” with many people believing that the end of the world was night.