Meteors in moonlight: 6 tips for 2022’s Leonids
Moonlight will hinder the Leonids meteors in 2022
The peak morning for 2022’s Leonid meteor shower is November 18. But – unfortunately – this year a fat waning crescent moon, just one day past last quarter, will interfere. But that doesn’t mean you can’t watch the Leonids in 2022. Here’s how to minimize the moon and optimize the 2022 Leonids.
1. Optimize your night sky for meteors
This should go without saying, but just a reminder to avoid city lights. A wide open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors. Visit EarthSky’s Best Places to Stargaze to find a dark location near you.
2. Find a moon shadow
On nights when the moon is full, or nearly full, you’ll notice that the moon casts shadows. When you’re out there watching the Leonids in 2022, don’t stand under a wide open sky. Instead, find a moon shadow somewhere that still provides you with a wide expanse of sky for meteor-viewing. A plateau area with high-standing mountains to block out the moon would work just fine. If you can’t do that, find a hedgerow of trees bordering a wide open field somewhere (though obtain permission, if it’s private land). Or simply sit in the shadow of a barn or other building. Ensconced within a moon shadow, and far from the glow of city lights, the night all of a sudden darkens and can help you see more meteors. You can’t run from the moon, but you can sure hide from it.
3. Look carefully at the meteors
For most meteor showers, it’s all about the count. Meteor-watchers love to count how many meteors they see in, say, an hour. But when the moon is obscuring the view, you know your meteor count will be way down. So, instead of counting, look at each meteor you do see carefully. Notice the speed and colors, if any, of the meteors. Notice whether, as they streak through your sky, the meteors “pop” with brightness suddenly.
Also, watch for meteor trains. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. Hard to see in the moonlight, but watch for them!
4. Watch for earthgrazers and fireballs
Earthgrazers. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Leonids are no exception. In fact, the Leonids tend to be richest shortly before dawn, when their radiant point – in the constellation Leo – is high in the sky. But you can also try watching for meteors in late evening. And late evening is the best time to catch what’s called an earthgrazer: a bright, long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. Earthgrazers are rare but memorable, if you’re lucky enough to spot one.
Fireballs. Even in bright moonlight, you might see an extremely bright meteor. Astronomers call them fireballs, and you have a shot at seeing one while watching a meteor shower. Unlike the meteors in annual showers – which start out no bigger than rice grains and are bits left behind by icy comets – a fireball starts as a larger, rockier object. So, fireballs aren’t necessarily part of the meteor shower. But if you happen to be outside watching a meteor shower, you might see one! If you do, you can report it here.
5. Make yourself comfortable
Bring along a blanket, some friends, a hot drink and a lawn chair. You’ll be more comfortable with a reclining lawn chair. If several of you are watching, take different parts of the sky. If you see one, shout “Meteor!” Let your eyes rove casually in all parts of the sky. Dress warmly, the nights can be cool or cold, even during the spring and summer months. You’ll probably appreciate that blanket and warm drink in the wee hours of the morning. Also, leave your laptops and tablets home; even using the nighttime dark mode will ruin your night vision.
6. Enjoy nature
Not every meteor shower is a winner. Sometimes, you come away having seen only one meteor. But consider this. If that one meteor is a pretty one, or a colorful one, or it takes a slow path across a starry night sky, then it was worth it. Maybe you simply enjoyed being outside, bathing in the moonlight, smelling the night air and chatting with a friend. Heaven!
From a veteran sky photographer
Bottom line: A very bright moon that is up all night will do its best to drown out the 2022 Leonid meteor shower. Here are some tips for enjoying the moonlit Leonids in 2022.