Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leoniod Meteor Shower 2010

Posted by Kirk Mona
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 again two predicted peaks to the Leonids this year. The predicted peak is 20 meteors per hour. Keep in mind though that these predictions assume you are in a really dark site. Probably not a storm like they have been in the past. There are records of over 3000 per hour in the past! The next predicted huge year for the leonids is in the year 2034. A bit of a wait on that one. Many of the meteors will be faint. The two predicted peaks are for 15:00 UT and 21:00 UT. That translates to 9:00 am CST on the 17th of November and at 3:00 am CST. North America isn't really positioned best to view them again this year but it will still be possible to see some. Best time will probably be to get up early in the morning Wednesday when it is still dark out. The moon will interfere with seeing meteors too.

The meteors in this shower are from the comet Tempel-Tuttle. There are two different peaks predicted because the comet has visited many times and the peaks correspond to slightly different dust trails left in different years.

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.

~Kirk

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