By Jason Lemon for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
If you're looking for a shooting star so you can make your wish come true, this weekend may just be your lucky opportunity.
The Leonid meteor shower will peak this weekend, providing ideal viewing conditions for millions across the United States. With clear skies predicted by meteorologists in many parts of the country, even amateur stargazers should be able to catch a glimpse of the cosmic spectacle.
Experts say 10 to 25 shooting stars will be visible per hour in areas with clear skies this Friday evening and Saturday morning, according to the Smithsonian. Even for the unlucky, such a high number gives anyone decent odds of sighting one of the meteors.
For those hoping to view the shower this weekend, here's everything you need to know:
What is the Leonid meteor shower?
The Leonid meteors are connected to the comet Tempel-Tuttle, according to David Samuhel, senior meteorologist and astronomy blogger at AccuWeather.
"It makes fairly frequent passes through the inner solar system," he said. "This lays out fresh debris in the path of the Earth's orbit every 33 years."
The Earth actually passes through the debris of the comet, making the falling particles visible as they burn up in the atmosphere. Thanks to clear skies and the absence of moonlight, this year's display should give stargazers a decent show.
Where will the meteor shower be most visible?
First of all, stargazers should get as far away from city lights as possible to avoid light pollution. There's no specific spot in the sky to look. But the shooting stars get their name from the Leo constellation, as their paths in the sky can be traced back to those stars.
Peak time for viewing is from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. ET Saturday.
People living throughout the Southeast, the Northern Plains and California are in luck, as meteorologists are predicting clear skies, ideal for viewing the shower.
Those who reside in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, the central Plains or the Pacific Northwest, however, may have to travel to other areas if they want to spot a falling star.
"A large storm system will be moving from the Plains into the Great Lakes, and cloudy skies are forecast to dominate much of the eastern half of the nation," meteorologist Kyle Elliot said, according to Accuweather. "Rain and thunderstorms will put an even bigger damper on viewing conditions in many of these areas."
The shower will actually be most visible, with the highest rates of visible meteors, in East Asia.
How intense can a Leonid shower get?
While this weekend's display is sure to impress, it's actually considered a light meteor shower, as opposed to a meteor storm. The last Leonid meteor storm took place in 2002. During storms, thousands of meteors can be spotted in an hour.
In 1833, stargazers reported as many as 72,000 shooting stars per hour, according to National Geographic. In 1966, a group of hunters reported seeing 40 to 50 streaks per second over the duration of 15 minutes.
Scientists currently predict the next major outburst won't take place until 2099. But calculations suggest the comet will be returning closer to Earth in 2031 and 2064, meaning more intense storms may be seen sooner. Smaller showers, such as the one occurring this weekend, happen on a regular basis.
So, while you may get another shot at seeing Leonid's shooting stars, this weekend promises to be a great chance for many.
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