Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2004
Meteors and a meeting of two brightest planets
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The annual Leonid meteor shower will peak on the night of Nov. 16-17. The moon will be a few days past new, so moonlight will not mask the bright streaks flashing across the sky.
The Leonid meteors, so named because they appear to radiate from the constellation Leo the Lion, are caused by streams of fast-moving dust particles from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which rounds the sun every 33 years. After several years of unusually high numbers of Leonids, the shower should be closer to normal this year. That probably means about 10 meteors per hour at the peak of activity.
Watch for meteors after midnight local time as the constellation Leo gets higher in the east. That is when your part of the planet will be rotating into the path of the oncoming meteors. The higher Leo is above the horizon, the more meteors will appear all over the sky. The bright star Regulus is part of Leo and can serve as a marker for the Leonids.
Light pollution wipes out many meteors for observers, so choose a dark site with an open view of as much of the sky as possible. Face eastward and give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the dark. A lawn chair and blanket will help you stay comfortable as you watch the sky.
More information about meteor showers is available from the American Meteor Society at http://www.amsmeteors.org/showers.html.
Solar eruptions are unpredictable, and the aurora season is not yet over. Locations of current auroral activity can be seen at http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/. Click on "Aurora Viewing" for tips on when an aurora may be visible in your area. Information about solar and other space "weather" is available at http://www.spacew.com/. Aurora sightings are reported at http://www.spacew.com/www/aurora.html.
To watch for auroras when they are most likely to happen, sign up for solar activity alerts by e-mail at http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/proamcollab/astroalert/default.asp.
Venus and Jupiter, two brilliant white planets, will rendezvous in the morning sky during the first week of November, coming closest on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 an hour before sunrise. Make sure you have a clear view to the east-southeast to see this glittering pair slide past each other. Venus, the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon, will continue downward as the month passes while Jupiter climbs higher in the southeast.
Saturn will rise in the east-northeast around 10 p.m. local time in early November and two hours earlier by month's end. The planet's yellow glow will dominate the constellation Gemini the Twins with its bright white stars Castor and Pollux. Saturn's rings will be a fascinating sight in a telescope when the planet is high in the southern sky after midnight. The rings were recently photographed in great detail by the Cassini spacecraft that is orbiting Saturn.
Mars will be visible very low in the southeast an hour before sunrise in November, a faint orange object slowly making its way out from behind the sun.
Mercury will be almost out of sight during November for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, though it will be much easier to see in the Southern Hemisphere. The best chance to spot Mercury will be Nov. 20, when it will be barely above the southwestern horizon a half hour after sunset.
The moon will be at third quarter on Nov. 5, new on Nov. 12, at first quarter on Nov. 19 and full on Nov. 26.