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Leonid meteor shower to peak this weekend

Staff writers
November 15, 2012 — Keep your eyes on the sky as the Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak this weekend.

Visibility for the meteor shower
Visibility for the meteor shower

Sky watchers could be in for a treat this weekend as the Leonid meteor shower lights up the night sky. 

The meteor shower is expected to reach its peak on Saturday, but like all meteor showers, a celestial fireworks display will be visible for a few nights before. 

"And the weather is looking great across much of the country in terms of visibility," says Brian Dillon, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.

The meteors are fast and will appear to radiate from the constellation Leo the Lion.

The Leonids are associated with the periodic comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was first discovered in 1865.

A meteor is a tiny dust particle that a comet sheds
A meteor is a tiny dust particle that a comet sheds

"Straggler shooting stars should continue to be visible for the following few nights after the peak," says Night Sky Guy Andrew Fazekas.

"Historically, the November Leonids are some of the most active showers, producing bonafide meteor storms, with hourly rates of as many as a few hundred to thousands of shooting stars an hour at peak times on rare occasions. This year's performance is expected to be much more modest, but still a good sky show with up to two dozen meteors visible an hour in the peak hours from the dark countryside."

What is a meteor shower?

"A meteor is a tiny dust particle that a comet sheds. These dust particles remain along the orbit of the comet for many years," explains astronomer Andrew Yee. "When the Earth comes close to the comet dust debris, dust particles fall into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up completely. We see the break up of the dust particles in streaks of light that we call meteors. They are also commonly referred to as "shooting stars," although this term is technically inaccurate." 

Yee adds that comet dust particles are typically smaller than the size of a pea and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere about 70 km above the surface.

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