Cosmic Spectacle: Leonid Meteor Shower To Light Up Sky Tonight
By on November 17th, 2011

The Leonids are upon us and that means that you should cancel all your plans and just stare towards the heavens tonight. On the night of 17th November (i.e between 17th and 18th), the Leonids are going to peak in intensity and we intend to give you every piece of information you need to know about them.

Leonids are seen when the Earth moves into the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle. They are called Leonids, since their radiant (i.e. the point in the sky from where they appear to radiate’ out) lies in the constellation of Leo. This is generally the procedure followed for naming meteor showers.

The radiant for the Leonids (Image Courtesy: ESA)

The peak this year is right on schedule and will be on 17th November. However, don’t despair if you miss it tonight. The meteor peak doesn’t fall off too sharply and you will be able to catch some streaks the day after as well, but obviously the rate will reduce.

The Leonids are one of the most prolific meteor showers known. They are also very capricious in their counts per hour. Leonids have been known to exceed 1000 streaks an hour and that becomes a scene you cannot possibly afford to miss. One such shower happened in the year 1966 and again as recently as 1999.

Details you need to know

Peak of the shower

Now for some bad news. The peak of the shower will happen at about 10 PM EST, when the radiant will be either near the horizon or below it for most places around the globe experiencing nighttime. In the US, the radiant will poke above the horizon at about 1 AM, but light pollution from the horizon can severely restrict the number of meteors you see, as many are very faint.

Avoid light pollution

We suggest that you try and go to a place which has as little light pollution as possible. Go out of the city, if possible. We recommend that you like comfortably on your back and don’t hurry things. The meteors are fickle-minded objects and there may be no sign of them for several minutes, may be even an hour. However, they will come in bunches, as the Leonids are reputed to do. Then they will relent again and not appear for quite some time. This effect will be more pronounced, if your view is blurred by smog as most of the streaks will be quite faint.

The Leonids (Courtesy: Mr. Kwown O Chul and www.astrokorea.com)

Photographing the shower

For enthusiastic photographers, here’s a quick tip. Try exposures of 5 to 10 minutes and, thus, you’ll need a tripod. Try to get as far away from the moon as possible and you should have no problems doing that here. If you’re lucky, you’ll get brilliant streaks, roughly perpendicular to the trails made by stars in the sky (photo above).

Remember that the time to watch out for is at about 12:30 AM to 1:00 AM. Happy skywatching.

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.

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