Categories: Sky Reports
An unusual meteor shower happens this week, and although we’re not likely to see much the story is interesting.
Meteor showers happen when the earth passes near the orbit of a comet that has been shedding dust. That dust follows in the orbit of the comet, and when we plow through it, the dust falls as meteors. Meteor showers happen at the same time each year when we return to the same part of our orbit.
Generally the dust is distributed more-or-less evenly around the comet’s orbit so we see the same shower each year, and the timing and intensity is predictable. But on occasion the dust comes in clumps that were recently shed by the comet and that have not yet dispersed, and then there’s a chance for very brief but intense showers. The problem is that it is quite hard to predict the location and size of the rather small clumps so we can only make educated guesses about what will happen if and when we meet one.
Every year on the night of November 17 the Leonid Meteors peak, although they fall for several nights before and after. Most years this is a minor shower with perhaps a dozen meteors per hour, but every 33 years we pass through a large clump, and in 2002 we saw up to 3,000 meteors per hour! There is some thought that we might hit some small clumps this year with a prediction for a brief peak of 200 meteors per hour centered on around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning the 19th. Don’t have your hopes very high as the calculations are difficult and hence imprecise, having to take many factors into account. But some people will be monitoring the sky all week.
Leonid meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Leo which rises in the east after midnight, so the best time to look is in the early morning hours. Good luck.
That said, the next reliably good meteor shower and the best of the year is the Geminids which peak on the morning of December 14.
Turning to the planets, we know precisely where and how bright they are. Jupiter is a third of the way up the southeastern sky at the moment of sunset and you can see it soon after. It’s half-way up the southern sky around 9 p.m. and it sets 2 hours after midnight. Wherever it is, it’s the brightest thing in the night sky (other than the moon).
Saturn is 40° — 4 times the width of your fist held at arm’s length – to the right of Jupiter, and it’s brighter than any nearby stars.
Mars glows red in the east where it’s second brightest only to Jupiter. Mars rises an hour after sunset and at our latitude is nearly overhead around 2 a.m. It’s north of Orion, between the horns of Taurus the Bull, in the middle of our winter constellations.
Stellar Vista Observatory provides portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! For details or to request a loan, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or drop in to the Kane County Office of Tourism.
The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.
John Mosley was Program Supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.