Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Annual Autumn Meteor Shower to Peak Thursday

Spend enough time stargazing and you are bound to spot a meteor shower, but you may spend hours waiting for that “falling star,” to cast your wish upon. That is unless you are lucky enough to be outside and watching for the noted annual show given by the Leonids meteor shower.
It’s partially a matter of luck, mixed with location, like many things in life. In clear weather and without a lot of light pollution an observer of the Leonids can expect to see about 10-20 meteor showers per hour, as opposed to the average of 1-2 each hour in normal conditions.  The Leonids are expected to peak this Thursday evening.
This year luck and location may work against those viewing from North America, as the timing of the peak activity comes around 10:00 p.m. EST on Thursday night, when the radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate, is below the horizon. The meteors probably won't start to appear across eastern North America until after midnight, as the “the radiant,” or the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate, is below the horizon.
If you intend to try to catch a glimpse of this year’s display, recently offered a few viewing tips:
Find a location far away from city lights, and go out after midnight. Dress warmly and lie back comfortably on a deck chair. Look high in the sky, either to the north or south. Give your eyes sufficient time, 15 or 20 minutes, to get adapted to the dark. Avoid looking directly at the moon, as that will ruin your dark adaptation.
And then, be patient. You may watch for as long as half an hour without seeing a single meteor. And then suddenly you may see two or three in a row. Then, continue to be patient.
This is not a fireworks display, though meteor showers are sometimes advertised as such. Most meteors are faint and fast moving. Meteor showers are subtle things, most of the time not spectacular, but immensely rewarding. The meteors you see are all one-time events, each and every one. They are the final markers of comet Tempel-Tuttle, first seen 645 years ago in the year 1366.
By all means try to photograph these meteors. All that's needed is a dark sky and a solidly mounted camera capable of time exposures. Exposures of 5 or 10 minutes will be best. The stars will be curved trails because of the Earth's rotation; the meteors will be straight lines radiating from Leo. Try to point your camera so that the moon is blocked by a foreground object, to avoid overexposure.

No comments: