No astronomical event can draw the “oohs” and “aahs” like a meteor shower. There’s just nothing like watching the brief streaks of light punctuate a dark night sky.
And if you can escape the glow of city lights, there’s a chance to do some oohing and aahing late tonight. That’s because the Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak tonight.
The Leonids are named for the constellation Leo, the lion, which climbs into view by around 2 a.m. If you trace the paths of the meteors across the sky, they all point back toward Leo. But the meteors can streak across any portion of the sky, so you don’t need to be looking toward Leo to see them.
The Leonids are produced by bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet draws close to the Sun, some of its ices vaporize, freeing small bits of solid rock. These particles spread out along the comet’s orbit. Earth passes through this path every November, sweeping up some of the debris. The particles blaze into the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. They vaporize as they streak across the sky, forming the glowing trails known as meteors.
Unfortunately, the gibbous Moon is in the sky most of the night, washing out most of the meteors. But there will still be a couple of hours of meteor-watching available after the Moon sets -- enough time for quite a few oohs and aahs.
And to help you enjoy the show, we’ve posted an animation and much more about the Leonids  in the Media Center.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.