Astronomers usually predict 10 to 20 visible 'shooting stars' per hour, but tonight we could potentially see up to 300 streaks per hour...

Skygazers, gather ’round! It’s that time of the year again. The Leonid meteor shower returns to our region of space, and we might be in for a treat tonight.

The Leonids produce some of the fastest meteors, at times even reaching speeds of 71 kilometres per hour.

However, it’s not only the speed that’s impressive. We might even be treated to a rare meteor storm tonight.

Leonids: What you need to know

Leonid meteor storm on the cards

According to Space.com, the Leonid Lion “whimpers rather than roars” most of the time, But tonight might be different.

Astronomers usually predict between 10 and 20 visible meteor streaks per hour, every year.

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This NASA file image taken in 2000 shows a meteor streaking across the sky as the Leonid meteor showers appears from inside the Leo constellation. Photo: AFP/NASA file.

That said, 2022 might just rival the famed 1966 meteor shower.

The largest recorded Leonid meteor storm occurred on 17 November 1966 and produced thousands of meteors per minute, during a brief 15-minute span.

Eyewitnesses said meteors “fell like rain”.

Even though the meteor showers during 1999 and 2001 produced spectacular sights, none matched the storm of 1966.

Will we see fireballs tonight?

Meteor expert Mikhail Maslov predicted that 2022’s zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) would be a spectacular show of between 250 and 300.

ZHR is the number of meteors a single observer would see in a hour during peak activity.

Maslov and fellow meteor expert Mikiya Sato believe the Earth would be entering an older debris trail from the comet this year.

If Mikhail’s predictions are accurate, tonight’s shower will only be rivalled by the ZHR of 2033’s meteor shower – approximately 300 to 400 streaks per hour.

Some experts are not convinced, however. They say the 2022 Leonids would be worth watching on Thursday and Friday, but won’t be anywhere near as spectacular as Mikhail predicts.

Comet origin

The Leonid meteor shower is associated with the Tempel-Tuttle comet which was first observed in 902 AD and originates from the Leo constellation.

The comet passes by Earth every 33 years. The ‘shooting stars’ we see this time of the year occur when Earth passes through the icy meteoroid stream left behind by Tempel-Tuttle.

While mediocre most years, the Leonids often produce fireballs with colourful trails and even ‘Earth-grazing meteors’ if the conditions are right.

How to view the Leonid meteor shower

The best time to watch would be from late evening until moonrise. Simply cast your eyes towards the Leo Constellation.

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Where to look.

The Bronberg Weather Station suggests finding a nice, dark spot away from light pollution. Then, simply lie flat on your back if possible, and look up in the northeast direction.

Do note that the Leo constellation does not come fully into view until after midnight, so you might have to wait up a bit.

Give your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the dark and take in as much of the sky as you can for the best possible viewing experience.

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Leonids viewing conditions

If the weather plays along, there’s no reason why South Africans have to miss out on this astronomical space event.

The Leonids can be viewed from any place on Earth except Antarctica. According to Space.com, the moon is currently in its waning crescent phase and will only be at 33% luminosity

Even though the Leonid meteor’s radiant point (when it’s at its highest in the sky) was at 1pm on Thursday, we’d be able to enjoy the meteor shower until it wanes on 30 November.

Via: Space, Earth&ky, Nasa

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Fall out from the Leonids including a fireball-like meteor (bottom L) in the early morning of 18 November 1998 in Nagoya city, Japan. Photo: AFP/JIJI PRESS