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Local News

How to see this week’s Leonids meteor shower and partial lunar eclipse

todayNovember 15, 2021 3

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One of the most prolific meteor showers to take place each year will peak in the UK on Wednesday night.

The Leonids meteor shower is an annual highlight for stargazers – where up to fifteen shooting stars can often be seen every hour during the spectacle.

Caused by small rocks and debris falling from a comet called Temple Tuttel the Leonids, which appear every year in November and take their name from the constellation Leo, are described as some of the fastest moving meteors travelling at speeds of up to 44 miles per second.

The Leonids meteor shower takes place every November. Picture: Adobe stock image.
The Leonids meteor shower takes place every November. Picture: Adobe stock image.

This week’s peak is set to happen on Wednesday night through to Thursday – however there are suggestions viewing conditions may not be as favourable as they’ve been in previous years.

Weather forecasts for the middle of the week suggest that much of the UK could be covered in patchy blankets of cloud, which will complicate being able to get a clear view of the Leonids.

A bright – nearly full moon – may also hamper efforts of those trying to catch sight of the shower, which is likely to be best seen between midnight and dawn.

Skies, which aren't blighted by light pollution caused by homes and street lights, make for the best viewing. Image: iStock.
Skies, which aren’t blighted by light pollution caused by homes and street lights, make for the best viewing. Image: iStock.

When it comes to the Leonids arrival, a pair of binnoculars or telescope are not essential and for the best view meteor spotters need to simply look up and take in the widest view possible of a clear sky and one that is affected by as little light pollution as possible.

But with cloudy patches forecast and a bright moon overhead, there are some reservations about whether the display will be as good as it has been in previous years.

For those disappointed by Wednesday’s forecast and untimely arrival of the moon, may however appreciate its bright appearance just a few days later when a partial eclipse is also set to happen.

While it might make conditions unfavourable for spotting comet debris and shooting stars, the full moon will be partially eclipsed on Friday (November 19).

Visible from the UK – alongside parts of north America and some parts of Western Europe – the partial lunar eclipse will take place between 6am and the time the moon sets.

A partial lunar eclipse could make the moon appear red. Image: stock photo
A partial lunar eclipse could make the moon appear red. Image: stock photo

It is caused when the Earth blocks the passage of sunlight to the Moon, and the Earth’s shadow falls across the full moon, causing some darkening or changes of colour to the lunar surface.

Once again those wishing to catch a glimpse will not only need to get up early but also find a location where the view of the sky and of the horizon is as clear as possible.

In order to watch the moon as it drops towards the horizon, which should be unobstructed for the best chance of seeing the partial eclipse, you should also be looking in a west-northwest direction.

The event is likely to have finished by 7.30am, possibly earlier, depending on how far north and west you are in the UK. And again – while the eclipse can be viewed through binoculars or a telescope those wishing to get involved can also just use their eyes, making it an ideal event for those new to spotting events in the sky.



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