This article first appeared at ntv.de
The fastest shooting stars of the year will light up the sky over Germany next weekend. We're talking about the Leonids, a meteor shower whose orbit crosses the Earth every November. The meteors are debris from Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. This celestial body was first discovered in 1865.
Since the beginning of November, fragments of the comet have been entering the Earth's atmosphere, where they burn up as fireballs. They reach their peak this Friday and Saturday. Then around 10 to 25 shooting stars will be visible in the night sky every hour.
But what use are the most beautiful shooting stars if the weather doesn't cooperate? ntv meteorologist Carlo Pfaff hardly has any good news: "It doesn't really look good. On the night of November 17th there may be a few gaps in the clouds on the North Sea and the Alps, but you have to be lucky. On the night of the 18th there will be larger cloud gaps in a strip from the North Sea via Hesse to Lower Bavaria, in the other regions things still don't look good." Patience and a bit of luck are necessary in order to be able to see the sky speedsters.
At the peak, only a maximum of 25 shooting stars can be seen per hour, but the activity is subject to strong fluctuations. About every 33 years, as Comet Temple-Tuttle itself approaches Earth, the number increases dramatically. Every hour, 300 to 500 meteors light up the night sky. However, this will not be the case again until 2033 and the following years. Every now and then there are even several thousand. If the Earth passes through a particularly dense meteor shower cloud, there can be more than 1,000 shooting stars. However, this is not expected until 2094.
However, it is not only during the comet's journey into the interior of the solar system that more shooting stars can be seen. Last year, for example, up to 250 meteors could be seen in the sky every hour at its peak. Meteor researchers have calculated that in 1733 a large cloud of debris was separated from the main stream of the Leonids by the solar wind and gravitational effects. It could be seen in 2022.
A special feature that sets the Leonids apart is their high speed. They are considered the fastest shooting stars among the major meteor showers. They race across the sky at an impressive 71 kilometers per second (around 255,600 kilometers per hour). This speed of the Leonids is possible because they move counter to the Earth's orbit.
By the way, the Leonids owe their name to the constellation Leo, from which direction they approach the Earth. The best visibility is from midnight to dawn, with dawn being the best time.