Can you believe the cool photo of a meteor and Comet ISON in the same frame? EarthSky Facebook friend Rene Pi BSc of Austria said he had excellent sky conditions for this shot. The meteor and comet are faint, but wow! What luck capturing them both. Read more about Comet ISON here.
Meanwhile, the image at the very top of this post showcases a famous woodcut of the 1833 Leonid meteor storm. No Leonid storm is expected in 2013, however. In a dark sky, you can usually see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour on the peak night of the Leonids … but not this year. The full moon almost exactly coincides with the peak of the Leonid meteor shower in 2013, to wash out all but the very brightest meteors from view. So don’t expect to see many meteors tonight (November 16-17), even though it’s the peak night of the Leonid meteor shower. The night of November 17-18 probably won’t be much better.
The crest of the November 2013 full moon occurs on November 17 at precisely 15:16 Universal Time. Translating Universal Time to the local clock time at U.S. time zones, that gives the precise time of the full moon as 10:16 a.m. EST, 9:16 a.m. CST, 8:16 a.m. or 7:16 a.m. For the U.S. West Coast, the moon turns full before sunrise on November 17, a peak time for the Leonid meteors to be flying.
This meteor shower is typically for night owls and early birds. As a rule of thumb, the Leonids intensify after midnight, and the greatest numbers fall just before dawn. If you’re game, try working around the moonlight to catch a Leonid meteor or two in the wee hours before dawn on November 17 or 18. Get up a few to several hours before sunrise, when the moon will be relatively low in the western sky. Sit in the long shadow of a barn or a hedgerow of trees, but leave an otherwise open view of sky.
Watch for Comet ISON! Even if you don’t spot any meteors in the predawn hours, the planet Jupiter will be blazing high overhead. And Mars will be in front of the constellation Leo, the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower. And don’t forget to bring along your binoculars to scan for Comet ISON. It’s up before dawn now. Comet ISON – now barely visible to the eye in dark skies – will be pairing up with the star Spica in the east-southeast sky.
The comet and the star Spica will be in the same binocular field on the mornings of November 17 and 18. Read more about Comet ISON and Spica – and find charts – here.
Comet ISON has gotten some 10 times brighter in recent days because it has had an outburst. It’s now still 12 days away from its November 28 perihelion and is already putting on a good show, for those with the patience to find it in the predawn sky.
Finally, the planet Mercury will rise over the sunrise point on the horizon as darkness gives way to dawn (around 90 to 60 minutes before sunup). Why not make a night of it?
The Leonid meteor shower is named after the constellation Leo the Lion. If you trace the paths of the Leonid meteors backward, they all seem to radiate from this constellation – near the star Algieba. But you don’t have to identify the constellation Leo to watch the Leonids, for these meteors fly any which way through the nighttime sky. Generally, the higher that Leo climbs in the sky, the more Leonid meteors that you’ll see. At this time of year, the Lion climbs highest in the sky just before dawn.
Find a dark, open sky and sprawl out comfortably in a reclining lawn chair. No special equipment is necessary. You don’t have to know the constellations. Every year in November, the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle and bits and pieces from this comet burn up as Leonid meteors in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Leonid meteor shower in history. The Leonid shower has produced some of history’s most impressive displays of meteors. The best displays in recent history took place in 1833, 1866 and 1966. Whenever our planet Earth plows through an unusually thick clump of debris in space – left behind by comets in orbit around the sun – hundreds of thousands of meteors can streak across our nighttime sky. For instance, observers in the southwest United States reported seeing 40 to 50 meteors per second (that’s 2,400 to 3,000 meteors per minute!) during a span of 15 minutes on the morning of November 17, 1966.
Bottom line: You may – or may not – see some Leonid meteors in the light of the full moon during the next several days. The peak nights will probably be November 16-17 and 17-18. If you’re lucky, binoculars may enable you to view Comet ISON before dawn.