Leonid meteor shower to light up night sky with spectacular shooting stars

Stars outnumber Leonid meteors lighting up the night sky of the desert near Amman. © Jali Jarekji
A stunning fireworks show will be thrown by Mother Nature overnight on Tuesday, as the Leonid meteor shower sends out a series of spectacular fireballs and shooting stars. The annual lights show contains some of the fastest meteors in existence.

“Leonids travel at speeds of 71 km (44 miles) per second, and are considered to be some of the fastest meteors out there,” NASA said in a statement.

Skywatchers hoping to see the light show with their own eyes are in luck, according to NASA, which says that a “waxing-crescent moon will set before midnight, leaving dark skies to view these bright and colorful meteors.”

Those who want a front-row seat should head outdoors at around midnight, local time, says NASA.

“Find an area well away from city or street lights...orient yourself with your feet towards east, lie flat on your back, and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible,” the space agency wrote online, noting that the show will last until dawn.

But although the Leonid shower has produced tens of thousands of meteors per hour in the past, this year's event won't be quite as remarkable. Viewers should at most expect 10 to 20 meteors per hour, according to Space.com.

The Leonids are created when Earth travels through a trail of debris shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. However, since the comet is now just about as far from the sun as it gets during its roughly 33-year orbit, there's not a lot of debris for Earth to collide with – which results in a less impressive meteor shower than previous years.

Those with compromised views due to clouds or light pollution can watch the meteor shower online, via a Leonids webcast hosted by the Slooh Community Observatory, which will take place at 01:00 GMT on Wednesday. The webcast will feature live shots from five different countries on four continents.