What to do at 3 a.m. on Nov. 17 (or so): Watch the Leonid meteor shower, says PARI
from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
Meteors result from particles of dust causing the atmosphere to glow as the particles enter the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The Leonid Meteors, or “Leonids,” are associated with Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As this comet revolves around the Sun every 33 years, it gives off gases and dust particles due to the heat of the Sun. While the gases eventually are dispersed throughout space, the dust particles remain as a trail of debris in the path of the comet long after the comet has gone on to the cold outer regions of the Solar System. Since the Earth encounters this trail of debris at the same point in space each time it makes its annual revolution around the Sun, we observe the Leonids on the same date each year, around November 17-18.
In 2012 the Leonids are predicted to reach a peak of about twenty meteors per hour at 3 a.m. EST on Saturday, November 17. Thus, the best time for observing this year’s Leonids will be in the pre-dawn hours of the 17th but they should also be readily visible on the mornings of the 16th and the18th. As with all meteor showers, the Leonids are best observed between midnight and dawn from a clear, dark location with a good horizon. The Leonids have been known to flare up into spectacular showers but no such “meteor storm” has been predicted for 2012. This year we have a thin crescent moon in the evening skies. Thus, the light of the moon will not interfere with observations of the fainter meteors in the predawn hours.
Give it a try; look to the northeast to find the meteors appearing to radiate out of the constellation of Leo the lion. Binoculars or telescopes are not needed to observe meteors.
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