The Leonid meteor shower is peaking this weekend — here's how to see the stunning annual event

  • The Leonid meteor shower, known for its bright streaks across the night sky, will reach its viewing peak this weekend.
  • You can see the Leonids between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. in whatever time zone you're in on November 17th and 18th.
  • About 20 meteors are expected to appear per hour. Parts of the western and southeastern US will have the best viewing conditions.
  • The best Leonids views are usually from the countryside or open fields far from city lights.

If you’re willing to brave some chilly early morning temperatures, you'll have the opportunity to marvel at the bright strokes of cosmic debris from November's Leonid meteor shower, which is at its peak this weekend.

The best time to see this year's Leonids peak is between 12 AM and 6 AM in all time zones throughout the US on November 17th and 18th. The best viewing times are after moonset (in the early morning when the moon sets into the Earth's horizon) and right before dawn.

RELATED: See photos from this year's Perseid Meteor Shower: 

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Perseid meteor shower 2018
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Perseid meteor shower 2018
A girl lies in hammock as she looks at the milky way during the peak of Perseid meteor shower in Kozjak, Macedonia August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
People look out for meteors near the Milky Way during the Perseid meteor shower at Dwejra, outside the village of San Lawrenz on the island of Gozo, Malta August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Cars drive through Ramon Crater during the Perseid meteor shower near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A meteor streaks over the skies over cross near the Franciscan monastery Rama-Scit during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower in Prozor, Bosnia and Herzegovina August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A meteor streaks across the skies over the cross near the Franciscan monastery Rama-Scit during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower in Prozor, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
People watch as a meteor streaks past the Milky Way in the night sky during the Perseid meteor shower at Dwejra, outside the village of San Lawrenz on the island of Gozo, Malta August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A meteor streaks past stars and the Milky Way in the night sky over the Helmos Observatory during the Perseids meteor shower, on mount Helmos near the city of Kalavrita, Greece, August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A meteor streaks past stars and the Milky Way in the night sky over the Helmos Observatory during the Perseids meteor shower, on mount Helmos near the city of Kalavrita, Greece, August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A meteor streaks past stars and the Milky Way in the night sky during the Perseids meteor shower in Berducedo, Spain, August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
A meteor streaks over the skies during the peak of Perseid meteor shower in Kozjak, Macedonia August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky during the Perseid meteor shower near the village of Ptich, Belarus, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky during the Perseid meteor shower near the village of Ptich, Belarus, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
The Milky Way is seen during the Perseids meteor shower in Berducedo, Spain, August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
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If you meteor-gaze after moonset, there will be less light to interfere with your viewing. And with this weekend's moon shining at a nearly full waxing gibbous phase, it's better to look out for the Leonids with no moon in the sky at all.

Meteor showers occur when the Earth moves through a dense cloud of comet debris during its orbital journey. What you see are the trails of dust remnants collected over the years. The Leonids are usually visible in mid-November, when the Comet Tempel-Tuttle sprinkles Earth’s path with rocks and ice.

Read more: A weird, cigar-shaped object flew through the solar system last year. Now astronomers may know where it came from.

The Leonids are known for being prolific, bright meteor storms with up to 100,000 meteors that whiz through the sky at every hour. Although this year’s shower won’t be as immense, experts estimate that people will see up to 20 meteors per hour — a little more than the average of 10 to 15 meteors usually seen per hour during the Leonids.

Accuweather reported there may also be a few “stragglers” from last month's Taurids meteor shower, so you could even see a few more meteors than anticipated.

Along with moonlight, any light pollution should be avoided in order to really see the Leonids. For the best views, EarthSky suggests going to the countryside or an open field where there are few lights or trees.

leonid meteor shower stargazing star trails night sky reuters ali jarekji RTXLGBQAli Jarekji/Reuters

Viewers in the western US (from Nevada up through Minnesota) and states in the Southeast are predicted to have the best viewing conditions. Areas in the Southwest and southern Plains will likely be covered in clouds, which would make seeing the Leonids more difficult. Parts of the country between Colorado and Illinois could also have trouble seeing the shower, since snow is expected to fall across that region this weekend. 

The Northeast will also get some clouds, and brisk winds could make it unpleasant to be outside in the middle of the night, according to Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather.

This meteor shower got its name from the Leo the Lion star constellation, from which the dust particles disperse and radiate. The next major Leonid meteor storm isn't expected to occur until the early 2030s.

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