The Leonid meteor shower is due to peak at midnight tonight and into Wednesday morning, sending stargazers scurrying for their telescopes all across the UK.
But you don’t need special equipment to see this annual event.
Travelling at 44 miles per second through the night sky, these bright and colourful celestial objects should be visible with the naked eye over Salford – providing the cloud cover stays off.
A waxing-crescent moon will set before midnight, leaving dark skies at the right time to view the Leonid meteors.
We’re not expecting a huge meteor storm – that only happens every 30 years or so, and the last time was in 2002. In a Leonid storm, hundreds to thousands of meteors can be seen every hour.
But there should be ‘fireballs’ and ‘earthgrazer’ meteors on show – large explosions of light and colour with long tails that seem to streak across the sky.
The first time the Leonids were ever recorded was in 902AD – Chinese astronomers in what is now Egypt reported seeing the first ever Leonid storm, and their accounts would read that the meteors seemed to “fall like rain”.
Kevin Gaskell, Chairman of Salford Astronomical Society explains: “If you trace the path of the meteors back, they seem to radiate from the constellation Leo and this is why they are called the Leonids.
“The shower is due to the Earth passing through the dust left behind from the comet Tempel-Tuttle.
“This comet, like all comets, leaves behind bits of dust and debris which lie around in space until a large body comes along, like the Earth, and attracts the debris with its massive gravitational pull.
“When the debris is pulled in, it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and then burns up as it hurtles towards the ground.”
The best time to look for the Leonids is between midnight and dawn on Wednesday. You can expect to see around 10-15 meteors per hour.
Kevin, who helps to run Salford’s very own observatory on Chaseley Road, says professional equipment is not necessary to get a good view of the Leonid meteor shower.
“The best idea is to lie down on a deck chair or sun lounger in the garden and look up: this way you get a better view of the sky and you are not straining from looking up.”
As NASA themselves advise, come prepared for winter weather with a sleeping bag or blanket. Orient yourself towards the east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. In less than half and hour your eyes will adjust to the dark and – again if the cloud cover stays off – you should be able to see meteors.
“The meteors are not visible where they radiate from,” says Kevin, “they usually only appear about 30 degrees from that point and can appear in any portion of the sky.
“If you follow the line of the meteor back towards where it came from, you will also see Jupiter below Leo, in the East if you have a good view of the eastern horizon.”
Main image: Leonid shower – Jimmy Westlake/NASA