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Leonids Meteor Shower November 2018

Home > Adelaide > Adventure | Nature | Outdoor | Unusual Events
by Roy Chambers (subscribe)
Lover of all things interesting and new
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Look to the night sky for the Leonids Meteor Shower
November has 2 meteor showers, the Taurids and the Leonids, with the Leonids being the best of the month. It runs for most of the month starting on November 6, going until the end of the month with the peak being on a weekend of Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th with up to 15 shooting stars an hour. With the Taurids occurring around the same time, expect a few extra shooting stars from that meteor shower as well.

Photograph of a Leonid Meteor and predawn light courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor and predawn light courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr

About the Leonids Meteor Shower

The Leonids is a fairly typical meteor shower, with 15 shooting stars per minute, but every 30 years or so there is a cyclic peak that results in hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars per minute, but this is not expected to occur again until 2034.

This meteor shower is the produced by the dust grains left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. By dust grains, I literally mean that. Most shooting stars are mere specs of dust that hit the Earth, well strictly speaking, it is the Earth that hits them. If you see really bright fireballs, then it will be a shooting star that is the size of a grain of sand.

Photograph of a Leonid Meteor with a green trail courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor with a green trail courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr

Meteor Shower Watching

So there are some general rules that apply to watching near all meteor showers. Remember how I said that it is the Earth running into the specs of dust left behind by a comet? Because of this, most meteor showers are best watched from the hours of midnight to dawn, with the hours closest to dawn being the best time.

Most shooting stars are fairly faint, you want to go somewhere dark and away from urban light pollution. Some options include bushland areas, remote beaches can be great in summer and I even know people who hike up mountains to watch meteor showers from the peak. I think the best place will be somewhere comfortable with a view of as much of the sky as possible, especially to the north and the east, though, at its peak shooting stars could appear anywhere in the sky.

Once you have found your spot, get rid of any light. So no campfires, smartphones, smartwatches, camera screens or flashlights. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark and only a moment to lose your night vision.

The best option is to sit or even lie down so that you have a comfortable view of the sky. If you stand you have to lean your head back and your neck will be sore even before your eyes have adjusted to the dark.

Most meteor showers are named after their apparent radiant point, that is, where in the sky the shooting stars appear to originate from. For the Leonids, it is the constellation Leo. Because this is the radiant point, it is really the one spot where there shouldn't be any shooting stars, but instead, they are more likely to appear shooting off in every direction from the constellation Leo. However, it is still useful to know where the radiant point is, especially when it is close to the horizon. You find LEO with a sky map and for most people these days, an app on their phone or tablet that makes it even easier. You just point the app at the sky and it shows you where the constellations are. I use one call Sky Map, but there are many others that are just as good.

Image of the constellation Leo courtesy of Til Credner at Wikimedia
Image of the constellation Leo courtesy of Til Credner at Wikimedia

Peak viewing times around Australia

So the meteor shower goes for 24 days but with the peak being on the evening of the November 17 and the morning of November 18. The moon is the main variable, and on the peak weekend, it will set not long after midnight, so it will only be a minor inconvenience early on in the evening.

n both Sydney and Melbourne the peak viewing time is from 3 am to 5 am, as this is the time that falls between moonset and the sky starting to brighten before sunrise.

Brisbane and the northern part of Australia probably has the best opportunity to view the Leonids, with viewing times being optimal between 1:30 am, when the moon sets and 4 am.

In Adelaide, the best time to look for shooting stars is between 3:15 am to 5:30 am with sunrise at 6 am.

In Perth, the optimal viewing time starts at 2:15 am after moonset, but you would be better off getting up early than staying up late, with 4 am being the perfect time to see shooting stars across the whole sky. Sunrise will be at 5:07 am.

Photographing shooting stars

One of the great challenges for photographers with decent cameras is to try and capture a shot of a shooting star. To do this you need a good camera, a tripod, the right setting and a great deal of luck.

First of all, you will need a DLSR or mirrorless camera, but more importantly, you will need a fast lens. Typically, lenses have a lowest f value of f/3.5, with the lower the number the faster the lens. Now you might be okay with that, but ideally, you want something that is going to be f/2.5 or even f/2 to photograph meteors.

Photograph of a Leonid Meteor courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr

The length of the exposure is another important setting. The longer the exposure the more of the star field will be captured and of course the more likely you will get a shooting star. However, if the exposure is too long, you get the shooting star, but it won't stand out among the stars. On the other hand, if the exposure is too short, you won't get the shooting star. Typically you want an exposure between 10 and 25 seconds. I would suggest trying a few night sky shots first to see which exposure length gets the right amount of stars.

Then you set up your camera on a tripod and point it at the night sky. Shooting stars are far too fast to try and snap when you see them, instead you have to set your camera to shoot continuously. Remember that every time you change the settings, you will look at the screen and lose your night vision, so it is usually better to just let the camera go and check through the images later.

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Why? Shooting stars in flight
Where: In the night sky above you
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