The annual Leonid meteor shower peaks each year around 17–19 November, so this weekend is the time to be on the lookout — make it an annual homeschool tradition! You can get some quick facts and local observing recommendations at timeanddate.com:
The Leonids appear to radiate from the constellation Leo, which rises in the east about 10:30 p.m. at this time of year, so that’s the general direction you’ll want to be looking. Your River Houses star atlas (riverhouses.org/books) will let you dial up a map of the constellations for this night (or any night), and will help you orient yourself to the sky overhead.
Meteor showers like the Leonids occur when the earth in its orbit around the sun passes through the trail of debris left behind by a comet (that’s why they occur at the same time each year). You and your students can learn all about meteors and meteor showers on the website of the American Meteor Society (amsmeteors.org) — here are some of their resources:
- 📍 Meteor Showers — Introduction (amsmeteors.org)
- 📍 Meteor Showers — Frequently Asked Questions (amsmeteors.org)
- 📍 Meteor Shower Calendar (amsmeteors.org)
The AMS also has a printable poster of basic meteor terminology — it’s just the thing for your homeschool bulletin board.
The Leonids are a particularly famous meteor shower because they have played an important role in history, both scientific and cultural. The parent object of the Leonids is comet Tempel–Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 33 years. That means that the Leonids are especially abundant, on average, every 33 years. On those occasions they sometimes produce a meteor storm, with thousands or even tens of thousands of meteors visible every hour. One such storm occurred over North America in 1833. It was accorded religious significance by many people at the time, and in the scientific community this storm provided important new insights into the relationship between meteor showers and comets.
There is a truly remarkable interactive animation of the Leonid meteor shower and its parent comet available from the website meteorshowers.org. Until quite recently, interactive animations of this kind would have been available only on the most advanced computers, but now you can examine them with a laptop from the comfort of your little home academy. 😊
Note that this animation is fully interactive: by dragging and scrolling across the screen you can tilt the plane of the solar system to view it from above or below, and you can zoom in on the earth’s or the comet’s orbit. (The earth is the blue planet, orbiting third from the sun.)
Pay a nighttime visit to a dark-sky location near your homeschool in the next few days, look to the lion, and see what shooting stars you can see. 😊
❡ Watchers of the skies: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. The planisphere on the front of your River Houses star atlas (riverhouses.org/books) will let you dial up the northern hemisphere sky for any night of the year, and the descriptions and maps of each constellation will point out the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌠 🔭 🌌