Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leonid Meteor Shower Visible Tonight

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

The debris that burns up in a meteor shower is from dust trails left by passing comets. The trail for the Leonids was laid down by comet Tempel-Tuttle. When we encounter thick lanes of dust there can be a meteor storm such as depicted in the drawing on the left from 1833. Tonight's show is not expected to be a storm though the Leonids are know for occasional bright fireball meteors.

There is some suggestion that there may be a peak around 6:00 AM CST so perhaps your best bet is to watch for meteors early in the morning.  Typically, after midnight is usually best for meteors. It looks like there will be clear skies in the Twin Cities tonight though there will also be a very bright moon which will obscure most meteors.

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.

If you can't see any tonight you might be able to listen to them on Space Weather Radio. If I get a chance I'll listen in and try to record some meteors. You can read about listening to meteors and hear some of my audio samples on my Listening to the Leonids article.