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Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005

STAR TRAK

Meteor showers, Mars and Venus brighten November skies

Photo by: NASA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 1, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The annual Leonid meteor shower will peak on the night of Nov. 16-17, though the full moon will mask the fainter streaks darting across the sky. Try to minimize the moon's effect by blocking it behind a building or trees and then facing away from it to watch for meteors.

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. 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.

The Taurid meteor shower, which normally peaks on Nov. 12 with about five meteors per hour, may also have an unusual burst of activity the first few nights of November. The moon will be new, so viewing conditions should be favorable if the predicted extra peak occurs.

More information about meteor showers is available from the American Meteor Society at http://www.amsmeteors.org/showers.html.

Planets

Mars, glowing bright yellow-orange, will continue to dominate the sky every night during November, reaching opposition (opposite the sun for observers on Earth) on Nov. 7 when it will rise at sunset, be highest in the south at midnight, and set at sunrise.

Outshining even Mars early in the evening will be Venus, the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon. Brilliant white Venus will remain conspicuous all month low in the southwest after sunset. It will set around 8 p.m. local time.

Mercury will be far to the lower right (west) of Venus during the first week of 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. 3, when it will be above the southwestern horizon a half hour after sunset, with the bright orange star Antares nearby on the left. Mercury will disappear into the solar glare in midmonth and reappear very low in the morning sky by month's end.

Saturn will rise in the east-northeast around 11 p.m. local time in early November and two hours earlier by month's end. Saturn's rings will be a fine telescopic sight when the planet is high in the southern sky after midnight. Binoculars will show the Beehive Star Cluster a little to the west of Saturn throughout the month.

Jupiter will emerge from the solar glare into the morning sky during the second week of November, appearing very low in the east around the time Mars is setting in the west. By month's end, Jupiter will be well above the southeastern horizon and easy to locate in predawn twilight.

Moon phases

The moon will be new on Nov. 1, at first quarter on Nov. 8, full on Nov. 15 and at third quarter on Nov. 23.