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The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks tonight

November 17, 2017; 4:42 PM

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The storied Leonid Meteor Shower reaches its peak tonight! Meteors will be most frequent after midnight. The timing is perfect, as the moon will not interfere with this shower, unlike most showers previously in 2017.

This shower has turned into a raging meteor storm in the past. In fact, the Leonids have produced the most impressive shows in recorded history. The years of enhanced activity have been pretty well calculated in advance, but the bad news is that 2017 won't even rank among the best showers of 2017, let along the massive Leonid storms of the past.

It is not necessarily the fresh passage of Comet 55P/Tempel Tuttle that sets the stage for a meteor storm, but it is the repeated passage over the same areas that leaves an extra thick cloud of debris for the Earth to pass through. Let's take a look at some of the historic meteor storm years for the Leonids.

I personally witnessed the most recent storm. It was 2001, my first year working for AccuWeather.com. I got off of work around 3 a.m., and headed outside to watch for meteors. I was shocked with how active it was. I observed what seemed to be several meteors at once in the sky all night log, but the 2001 show pales in comparison to 1966 and 1833.

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Artists depiction of the 1833 Leonid Storm over Niagara Falls

In 1966, the Leonids produced one of the most impressive shows of all time. The most impressive display was across the Western U.S. Here is a quote from a space.com article about that night.

Perhaps the best views were from California and Arizona. At the Table Mountain Observatory, near Wrightwood, Calif., one resident astronomer commented that he and a colleague, " ... watched a rain of meteors, turn into a hail of meteors and finally a storm of meteors, too numerous to count by 3:50 a.m. Pacific Time. Instinctively, we sought to shield our upturned faces from imagined celestial debris."

From 6,850-foot Kitt Peak in southern Arizona, 13 amateur astronomers were trying to guess how many could be seen by a sweep of their heads in one second. The consensus of the group was that the peak occurred at 4:54 a.m. Mountain Time, when the staggering rate of 40 per second (144,000 per hour) was reached!

The Leonids storm of 1833 was probably the the most intense meteor storm in recorded history. Here is an account of the event.

Outlook for the 2017 Leonids

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Look for the most meteors after midnight. Fifteen meteors are expected after midnight through dawn. This barely puts it into the top 10 meteor showers of 2017, but it's worth a look if you are out late.

I tell people that are serious about seeing meteors to dedicate at least an hour. Number one: Do not look at any light source during that hour like a phone, flash light, or any type of screen; your eyes will gradually adjust by a half hour, then you will have perfect night vision. You also want to lie flat, so you can see as much of the sky as possible. Using a lounge chair is a great option. You don't need to focus on the radiant, which will be in the northeastern part of the sky. Looking straight up is the best thing to do.

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Unfortunately it will be cloudy across most of the eastern portions of the country. Folks in the poor area in the Upper Midwest and central Plains may see the skies clear before dawn, which would be right when the shower is at peak intensity.

Caribbean Friday Night

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Computer model snap shot of cloud cover during the peak of the meteor shower.

Overseas, the shower will be stronger Saturday night local time. The shower favors the northern hemisphere, but you can still see a couple meteors in the Southern Hemisphere. With the limited activity in the south, we will only look at Northern Hemisphere cloud cover. So, let's take a look.

Europe Saturday night

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Middle East/Asia

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Eastern Asia

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Enjoy your time outside! Not too many things are free anymore; however, looking at the night sky is still one of those things. Thanks for reading! Just look up, you never know what you will see.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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