The Leonid meteor shower will brighten the sky the next couple of nights. And the Moon is out of the way, so it won't spoil the show.
The Leonids get their name from Leo, the lion, which climbs into view well after midnight. If you trace the paths of the Leonids across the sky, they all point back to the arc of stars that outlines the lion's head and mane. But the meteors can streak across any part of the sky, so you don't have to look at Leo to see them.
While Leo gives the Leonids their name, they're actually the children of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, it sheds bits of rock and dust. This debris spreads out along the comet's path. As Earth flies through this path, it sweeps up some of the particles. They vaporize as they plunge into the atmosphere, forming streaks of light.
This should be a pretty good year for the Leonids. Many experts expect top rates of scores of meteors per hour. And some parts of the world may see hundreds per hour, as Earth passes through a dense clump of comet dust. That's likely to happen during the daytime hours for those of us in the United States, though.
Even so, the shower should be a good one. The best time to look is after 1 or 2 a.m. local time, when your part of Earth turns toward the meteor stream. Be sure to find a safe, dark skywatching site. And while tonight is likely to be the shower's best, tomorrow night could be pretty good, too.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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