Steve reminded me that it’s time for an unusual celestial event, the annual Leonid Meteor Shower. If you’re going to be up between 2 and 4 am on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, you should be in for quite a show. It’s expected to be a peak year, with potentially as many as 30 to 50 meteors an hour shooting across the sky.
The Leonids get their name because they seemingly emanate from the constellation of Leo, but in fact, is caused when the Earth passes through the wake of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. In a nutshell, small particles left from the comet ionize when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere, the results of which can result in a bright, glowing trail across the night sky. The shower actually started on Friday, Nov. 13, but the peak should be Nov. 17-18.
The Leonids have gained great acclaim because they are among the most spectacular meteor showers. The Leonid shower of 1833 is one of the most amazing in recent history, showering North America with estimates of as many as 200,000 meteors an hour! It’s also said to have been “the sign” that inspired Joseph Smith to leave Missouri for Utah and found the Mormon religion. It also marked the beginning of deeper scientific study of meteors, which up to that point had been generally thought to be debris thrown up by volcanoes coming back down to Earth, as opposed to objects actually coming down from the heavens.
The forecast for Connecticut on Tuesday night is mostly clear, so it should make for decent viewing. Obviously, viewing will be best away from cities and out in the suburbs, where the light pollution is less.
And unlike some other celestial events, the Leonids are best viewed with the naked eye — so just find a comfortable spot, sit back and simply gaze upward. It should be well worth it.