Monday, November 19, 2012

Leonid Meteor Shower 2012 - A Gift That Keeps on Giving

November is the month for the Leonid Meteor Shower and this year we have two peak times to watch the display.  Our first opportunity came on the 17th, and if you (like me) didn't have your act together to catch the peak display, you get another chance on November 20th.  That's right, two peaks, no waiting.

The Leonid Shower has sometimes been referred to as a meteor storm due to the frequency of meteors blazing across the night sky.  In 1966 the meteors fell at a rate of a thousand per minute.  Not so this year.  This year the meteors are falling at a rate of about ten to twenty per hour.  In case you think that the cosmos is playing a game of slow pitch softball with us, think again.  The meteors will be falling at a rate of almost forty miles per second.

This November meteor shower emanates from the constellation of Leo.  Good thing it didn't come out of Sagittarius, isn't it?  Try wrapping your mouth around something like that.  The meteors themselves are objects from the debris field of the Tempel-Tuttle comet which circles our Sun in a large, egg-shaped orbit.  Every thirty-three years Tempel-Tuttle's orbit brings it within spitting distance of earth - astronomically speaking.  That means we pass through a denser part of the debris field during our own solar orbit.  1999 was another banner year for meteors, which means that 2032 should be looking good for an all out meteor storm.

November 20th still promises us some good viewing action during the wee hours of the morning.  Our crescent moon will be setting as the constellation Leo rises, providing us with a darker sky.  Meteors will fall at the rate of fifteen to twenty per hour.  To put this in perspective, the Perseid Shower boasts an average shower rate of about fifty meteors per hour.  Okay, so this year the Leonid Shower is more like, "The Little Meteor Shower That Could." That doesn't mean you should pass up the opportunity to take in the show.  Remember, good things come in small packages.


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