Leonid meteors promise great display tonight

The annual Leonid meteor shower will peak tonight, with up to 300 shooting stars per hour.

The display will be most visible in Asia, where it takes place in the early hours of the morning. Across the US, the peak will take place late afternoon – around 4.45pm EST.

“We’re predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas, and as many as 200 to 300 per hour over Asia,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.”Our forecast is in good accord with independent theoretical work by other astronomers.”

The new moon means that visibility will be good – as long as there isn’t too much cloud cover. This year, says Cooke, the meteors will appear to be shooting almost directly out of the planet Mars, making for an even more dramatic spectacle.

The Leonids consist of debris from Comet Temple-Tuttle. “We can predict when Earth will cross a debris stream with pretty good accuracy,” says Cooke. “The intensity of the display is less certain, though, because we don’t know how much debris is in each stream.”