Leonid Meteor Shower 2019 to Peak This Weekend: Everything You Need to Know

This weekend, the Leonid meteor shower will peak on the nights of November 17 and 18. The shower has been active since about November 6 and will likely stop around November 30, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS.)

Meteor showers are celestial events during which numerous meteors appear in the night sky, originating from what seems like a single location. They occur when the Earth passes through streams of cosmic debris left behind by comets and asteroids.

Meteors, commonly known as "shooting stars," are the streaks of light we see when small pieces of debris from these asteroids or comets enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up at extremely high speeds.

The debris that produces the Leonids comes from the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle and this material is sometimes responsible for meteor storms—when thousands of shooting stars can be seen every hour. In fact, the Leonids produced meteor storms in the years 1833, 1866, 1966, 1999 and 2001.

These storms occur when the comet is making its closest approach to the sun. However, astronomers predict that the Leonids will only produce up to around 15 meteors per hour for most years up to 2099 because the Earth is not set to encounter any dense clouds of debris from the comet.

The exceptions are 2031 and 2064 when 55P/Tempel-Tuttle will make close approaches to the Sun. In these two years, it is possible that the Leonids may produce more than 100 meteors per hour.

Leonid meteors appear to originate, or radiate, from the constellation Leo (the Lion) and are usually bright featuring persistent trains—glowing trails of vaporized rock.

leonid meteor
This image taken with a meteorite tracking device developed by George Varros, shows a meteorite as it enters Earth's atmosphere during the Leonid meteor shower November 19, 2002. George Varros and Dr. Peter Jenniskens/NASA/Getty Images

Before meteors enter the atmosphere, they are known as "meteoroids." Most of the visible Leonid meteors measure between 1 millimeter and 1 centimeter in diameter. The fact that they can be seen at all over distances of hundreds of miles is because of the incredible speed that they travel at through the Earth's atmosphere—around 159,000 miles per hour, according to NASA.

For the best viewing, go somewhere away from light pollution where skies are clear. However, it should be noted that the moon will be around 80 percent full as the meteor shower peaks so visibility is going to be hindered by a relatively bright night sky. Nevertheless, the best viewing hours are between midnight and dawn, according to EarthSky.

The vast majority of meteors burn up before they hit the ground. However, if one does reach the planet's surface it is known as a meteorite.