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The Leonid Meteor Shower-Getting Ready For A Pre-Holiday Sky Show
I like to think of this years upcoming Leonid meteor shower as one that is pre-holiday in nature. Why? because as most of us know, the month of November signifies a time of thanks, a time to thank our creator for being able to celebrate the festive beginnings of Thanksgiving and afterwards those of the christmas season. This is the time of year that we get to spend more valuable and special time with family members, who for some reason or other may have been neglected during the past year. This is also a time to get out and get acquainted with the wonders of the night time skies. Our creator has given us all of these glorious splendors to enjoy to the fullest. Splendors that bring joy to both young and old alike.
During mid-November another meteor shower yet unfolds before our eyes. Unlike last month's Orionid meteor shower, associated with Halleys comet. This pre-holiday sky event will be able to be witnessed during mid-November. Between November 12th right through to the 19th of November, you will be able to observe at least ten to fifteen decent meteors per hour. Or as some individuals like to refer to them as shooting or falling stars. November 17th to the 19th will provide the best viewing nights. With this particular meteor shower peaking on the morning of the 17th. Just when the big hand strikes twelve and into the wee hours of the morning...say 2:00 to 3:30 A.M. is really the best time to observe the Leonids. The leonid meteors will appear to be emanating or coming from the direction of the sky, where the constellation Leo the Lion is located. Hence how this meteor shower received its name. The leonid meteor shower is also associated with a parent comet. In this case comet Tempel-Tuttlle.
As comet Tempel-Tuttle continues its current 33rd trip around the sun, tiny specks or dust particles are left behind as the earth passes through its dust trail. As a result we visualize these dust particles as meteors as they are travelling at approximately 153,000 miles per hour. The resulting meteors appear in the atmosphere at 30 to 80 miles above the earth's surface, as friction with the air produces an incandescent type of glow. This in turn enables earth based observers, to see the meteors. The majority of meteors or falling stars that are seen during a meteor shower, such as the Leonids burn up in the atmosphere. However there are always a select few that do make it through and make it to the ground. These meteors which reach the ground are termed meteorites.
The science of observing meteor showers, has been with us since November 12th. 1833. This is not only the time period since the discovery of the Leonid meteor shower. But it also earmarks the beginning of meteor astronomy itself. And even though the leonid meteor shower has known to produce on average 100 or more meteors per hour during past years. Unfortunately this will not be the case for this years show, not only because there will be some interfering moonlight early in the morning. But mainly because we are now at a period of about 16 years away, from the time that the Leonids last produced a large amount of meteors.
Usually every 33 years or so, this meteor shower produces an abundance of meteors, that do amount to at least 60 to 100 or more per hour. Not to say that you will not be able to see a few decent meteors shooting across the pre-dawn skies. The fact of the matter is that it will be at least another 16 years or so, before we get a chance to see more than fifteen meteors per hour again. Observing any meteor shower, including the Leonids also requires a bit of patience on your part and you want to be comfortable as you wait and watch this years show. In addition when observing any meteor shower, you want to make sure that you are as far away as possible, from the brightness of city lights.
During the Leonid meteor shower of 2011 all you will have to contend with, will be a last quarter, or waning crescent moon. It may obstruct your view a little, possibly in the way of not being able to see a few fainter meteors. But if you begin your observing session later on the evening of the 17th into the early morning hours of the 18 of Nov. This may help, in the way that the moon will be out of the constellation Leo, at that time and make your viewing efforts a bit more pleasant.
You may also want to make sure you bring along a warm jacket and a thermos filled with your favorite hot beverage. Because as late autumn evenings take us into the chill of pre-dawn; we in turn do not want to chill our bones in the process. You have to remember-try to stay comfortable as you can,while remaining patient. In doing so, you will be able to take some time out to scan the area of Leo the Lion. Searching for meteors and even an occasional fireball or two. Hopefully this years Leonid meteors though, do not disappoint you too much. If so, try to keep in mind, that there are so many more meteor showers and other delights in the heavens; you have yet to observe and to explore. So just in case this one in particular, turns out to be a flaw. I recommend you go to your local library and pick out a book to help you pass the time, a book by the name of Newton's Law.