Heads up! Leonid Meteor Shower is back!

16Nov09

It’s mid November and the faithful Leonid Meteor Shower (LMS) is back. Leonid is one of the prolific seasonal meteor shower each year. Read more for spotting tips.

The what now?

The Leonid Meteor Shower (LMS) is a meteor shower that occurs regularly during November. It is one of the most prolific shower of the year, meaning better chance for you to catch a glimpse of fireball streaking through the sky, a very rewarding experience.

LMS occurs when the earth’s trajectory around the sun crosses with the comet Temple-Tutle’s tail. As the earth move into the comet’s trail, the fragments from the comet are being pulled by earth’s gravity and burned up in the upper atmosphere, presenting us ground-dwellers with an unearthly display of pyrotechnic.

Leonid Storm of 1996 over Spain (Photo by Volker Gerhardt)

Leonid Storm of 1996 over Spain (Photo by Volker Gerhardt)

This year, astronomers calculated that LMS will peaked on November 17. However, the show this year will not be as lively as The Leonid Meteor Storm of 1999-2001. (those years, LMS rains down more than three thousand objects an hour!). But dont feel discouraged, we can still expect a show of upward 500 streak per hour. That is still quite spectacular!.

LMS has been recorded as far back as 902 AD. It always comes regularly mid to end of November. It’s regularity and prolific display contributes to space science by enabling more accurate prediction of meteor outburst. That is, the time when a meteor shower reaches its peak. It cuts the precision down to minutes instead of hours or days. The current model predicts that 2009 LMS will peaked at around 2:30 – 3:00 AM (GMT+7).

Whh…how?!…when?!

Like other seasonal meteor shower, LMS garners it’s name from the radiant area, the area of the sky from which the debris seems to emanate. LMS radiant is in the constellation Leo, and that is where we want to keep our eyes on for the night. It is easier for you to find Leo in the night sky by first observing brighter objects and then work your way from there. For then, the planet Mars will make a good starting point. It’s bright enough and has reddish color distinct from other sky objects.

Viewing orientation to spot Leonid Meteor Shower

Viewing orientation to spot Leonid Meteor Shower

On the night of Nov 17, Mars will rise at around 12:00 midnight. At 2:30 (the time the shower peaked) stand and look straight eastward (the direction of sunrise). To your left is north, and your right is south. Now by pivoting on your heel slowly rotate your body half way or 45 deg to north (that is to your left). Now tilt your head upward. On your way upward you’ll pass the radiant area. When you hit mars height, then you’re overshoot.

As always, you shouldn’t be needing any visual aids to watch a meteor shower. Find a dark spot, sit back and relax and hope for dark cloudless night sky. It will be new moon by then so no natural light will intrude our viewing. Take your friends with you or join a star party.

There will also be featuring shows the night. Now, I have mentioned Mars. there’s will also be Saturn coming after. If you happens to insist on carrying your telescope, why not use it to try and spot Saturn and catch a glimpse of the rings. Galileo did with his raw telescope and that started a revolution of science.

If you cut to the west part of the sky, the ol’ Orion can easily be seen. Look for the three starts that form his ‘belt’. And of course Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, will remain visible right above Orion. If you look to the south, you can spot the southern cross and if the your viewing location is dark enough, at that hours, the majestic Milky Way stretches right above you from north west to south east. And for the coup de grace, don’t miss the dawn break. Always my favorite part of long night stargazing.

Have fun!

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