Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leonid Meteor Shower November 17th

Posted by Kirk
The Leonid Meteor Shower will be visible this month in the Twin Cities (the rest of the world as well.)

Science has come a long way on these showers to the point that astronomers are getting better at predicting which years will be good and at what exact times the earth will encounter the most dense clouds of debris. The debris that burns up in a meteor shower is from dust trails left by passing comets.

There are two predicted peaks to the Leonids this year. Unfortunately, the best peak will be mostly visible to those in Asia. The predicted peak is 100 meteors per hour. Keep in mind though that these predictions assume you are in a really dark site. Many of the meteors will be faint. A second, less impressive, peak is predicted for North America. The peak will be on the morning of November 17th from 2:30 to 4:30 am CST. That's a pretty vague window but the comet stream that produces this peak is spreading out so the intensity is spread over a longer time period. The Asia peak and the North America peak are from the same comet (Tempel-Tuttle) but from trails left in different years. The predicted rate for the North America peak is about 12 per hour. Look in the southeastern sky. The meteors should appear to come from that direction.

People have asked me where the best place is to view meteor showers in the twin cities metro area. That's a tough question. It all depends on how many you want to see. I've seen plenty of meteors from my light polluted St. Paul back yard. Shield your eyes from any stray light such as street lamps and turn the lights off in your house. Most of all, let your eyes adjust to the dark. Fifteen to thirty minutes of letting your eyes adjust to the dark will let you see many many more meteors.

Suppose you want to drive a little though to get a good view? Check out the Minnesota Astronomical Society website. They have a really cool light pollution map created by Craig Cotner. If you look at the map, you can see light pollution is pretty bad anywhere near the metro. What direction to travel depends a little on where in the metro you live. Heading out to an area in the yellow zone on the map will at least give you somewhat darker skies. You need a minimum of a two hour drive to get to a truly dark site and likely it will take even longer. Think boundary waters for true darkness! At any rate, you can most likely easily see a few good "shooting stars." from your own back yard.