Saturday, November 14, 2009

Strong Leonid Meteor Shower expected Tuesday

Night owls and early morning risers should circle November 17 on their calendars. Early that morning a moderate to possibly very strong showing of the annual Leonid meteor shower is likely to happen - weather permitting.

Although the strongest displays will occur over Asia, a more modest, but still potentially enjoyable display of a few dozen Leonid meteors per hour is expected for North America. Observers in the eastern United States and Canada will be particularly well-positioned for maximum activity, expected sometime between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m. EST, when the radiant of the Leonid shower will be well up in the dark southeastern sky.

Additionally, there won't be any interference from the moon this year, making it easier to catch the fainter meteor streaks.

The Leonid meteors are thought to be the dusty legacy of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the Earth encounters the debris left behind by the comet's previous passes through our orbit, these tiny fragments of the comet – typically no bigger than a sand grain or the occasional pea – impact our atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 miles per second, causing them to blaze briefly but brightly in the night sky.

Although peak viewing is expected during the predawn hours of Nov. 17, early-morning hours on the dates surrounding Nov. 17 could provide a decent showing as well.

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