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Leonid meteor shower set to feature sea of shooting stars

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:22 PM EST, Fri November 16, 2012
The Leonid meteor shower is caused when Earth passes through debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
The Leonid meteor shower is caused when Earth passes through debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Leonid meteor shower occurs every year in mid-November
  • It happens as the Earth passes a comet's debris that's now in its orbital path
  • A NASA expert predicts 15 to 20 meteors per hour this year

(CNN) -- Mother Earth, it's shower time.

The planet won't be awash in water early Saturday, but rather meteors. It's part of an annual astronomical event known as the Leonid meteor shower, falling in mid-November as the Earth passes through debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle.

"We're predicting a normal year of 15 to 20 meteors per hour," said Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, according to a story on the space agency's website.

The fun begins Friday night, with the peak activity expected around 4:30 a.m. ET the next morning, according to NASA.

For those wishing to wish on a shooting star, Cooke recommends bundling up, getting away from the city lights and lying on your back (assuming you are able to still stay awake in doing so).

One thing that stargazers have working to their advantage, assuming clouds don't muddle the festivities, is the fact the moon is in a crescent setting, meaning its light is less likely to obscure the show.

Thankfully, there's no chance the Earth will crash into Comet Tempel-Tuttle this year. It was last in the solar system's inner orbit and closest to our planet in early 1998, NASA explains, and it won't be back for another 33 years.

But it left "a stream of dusty debris," known as Leonid meteors, when it moved on through. Some of these remnants have drifted into the Earth's orbital path -- and when our planet passes by, the meteors seem to be falling from the area of the constellation Leo, the lion.

The relatively small bits of rock will enter the planet's atmosphere though they won't get far, burning up before they can hit the Earth, according to StarDate magazine, which is a product of the University of Texas' McDonald Observatory.

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