Monday, November 17, 2014

Catch the Leonid Meteor Shower Nov 17/18!

The Leonid Meteor Shower, one of the best meteor showers of the year, is happening this week, peaking around November 17/18. The meteors appear to originate from the constellation Leo.  The radiant point that the meteors seem to originate from rises slightly north of due east shortly after after 11 pm.

Long, earth-grazing meteors could be visible coming out of the eastern horizon before the radiant point rises. You can download an app such as StarWalk to a smartphone or tablet to make identification of the constellation and radiant point easy. As night progresses the portion of the earth that you're standing on rotates around to the forward path of the planet hurtling through space, where it collides with more space debris.  The path of the earth is due east at midnight, so the sky and atmosphere above you acts like a big scoop collecting meteors and creating long fireball trails.  The eastern half of your sky can collide with slightly more debris at that point, and more and more of the sky above you is directly facing the direction the earth is travelling as dawn approaches.  That's why early morning hours are often advised for meteor shower watching.

For 2014 however the moon will rise around 3 am at mid northern latitudes, so the best viewing will be roughly midnight to 2:30 am. Adjust your shooting direction to accommodate the east to west movement of Leo as it seems to circle the North Star and rises towards nearly overhead and slightly northeast as dawn approaches.

Check the weather forecast and moon rise times in your area to fine tune your viewing experience. To find a prime viewing spot, travel east away from cities to put the light pollution at your back. Good luck!