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Leonid meteors pepper the nighttime before dawn November 17

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Tonight for November 16, 2014

Our featured chart at top shows the radiant point for the Leonid meteor shower, near the star Algieba in the constellation Leo the Lion. This year, the brilliant planet Jupiter is found near Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. So use Jupiter, the brightest star-like object in the November 2014 night sky, as your guide “star” to the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower. At mid-northern latitude, Jupiter rises in the east at late evening or close to midnight. Although the peak night will probably be tomorrow (November 17-18), the night of November 16-17 should offer a decent sprinkling of meteors, as well.

This year, in 12014, you can use the dazzling planet Jupiter to help you locate the constellation Leo, the radiant for the Leonid meteors.

This year, in 12014, you can use the dazzling planet Jupiter to help you locate the constellation Leo, the radiant for the Leonid meteors.

This year, the rather slim waning crescent moon won’t really obtrude too greatly on this year’s Leonid shower. This modest shower may only offer 10 to 15 meteors per hour at its best. Even so, watching just one meteor flying across the sky can count as a big thrill. A good percentage of these swift-moving meteor leave persistent trains – glowing trails of ionized gas that last for a few moments are the meteor has gone!

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Fortunately for meteor buffs, no bright moon will ruin this year’s Leonid attraction. The waning crescent moon in the early morning hours will likely be more picturesque than detracting. In a dark sky – at a site located far from city lights – you might see as many as 10 to 15 meteors per hour in the subdued light of the slim lunar crescent.

The illustration on the right depicts a Leonid meteor storm in the year 1833. It shows what the Leonid shower might look like in a year that this shower erupts into storm, bombarding the sky with thousands of meteors – sometimes also called shooting stars or falling stars – per hour. Will there be a Leonid storm in 2013? That’s one prediction we can make with a fair amount of certainty, and the answer is no. No storm or heightened meteor activity is anticipated for the Leonid meteor shower in 2013.

On a dark night, we typically see the most Leonid meteors streaking the sky in the hour before before dawn because that’s when the constellation Leo the Lion is found highest in the sky. Those wanting to make a night of it can observe Jupiter rising in the east near midnight, and highest up in the sky as the predawn darkness gives way to dawn. Because Jupiter shines fairly close to Leo, the radiant of the Leonid meteor shower, you can expect to see more meteors as Jupiter and Leo climb upward in the wee morning hours after midnight.

Many ask about the radiant points of meteor showers. Please know that you don’t have to locate the radiant point to watch the Leonid shower, for these meteors fly all through the starry heavens. But it’s fun to know where the radiant lies in the sky. When tracing the paths of the Leonid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from the constellation Leo the Lion. Therefore, the meteors in this annual shower are named for this constellation. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, Leo rises over eastern horizon around 1 a.m. After rising, Leo then climbs upward and westward, soaring to its highest point in the southern sky around 6:30 a.m. local time.

Every year – in November – our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Debris from this comet burns up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere to create the annual Leonid shower. The Leonids are generally a modest shower, but this shower has been been known to create rich meteor storms. No Leonid meteor storm is expected for 2014, however.

Find a dark sky away from pesky artificial lights, enjoy the comfort of a reclining lawn chair and sleeping bag, and enjoy watching the swift-moving and often bright Leonid meteors zinging in front of the lore-laden and age-old constellations.

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How high up are meteors when they begin to glow?