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Rare meteor showers make a splash

by William J. Bechaver

EARTH — November is usually a pretty mundane month when it comes to viewing meteor showers. The Leonids are more scarce, and blazing so quickly, the slightest amount of moonlight in the sky can interfere.

But this year, they peak the evening just before the new moon, so there will be virtually no moonlight to interfere at all.

Even all of the visual planets are cooperating, lying on the far side of the sun. More on that in a minute.

Focusing on the Leonids, they peak this year in the early morning hours of Friday, November 17. Go out late on Thursday night, and look to the southeast. You may see a couple of the early risers streaking across the sky.

As the evening progresses into early morning, the number of meteors you can see will increase, until you can see more than a dozen an hour.

The peak time for viewing begins at about three o’clock in the morning, and will continue for a couple of hours, until morning twilight interferes. But during the peak, it will be well worth the time to bundle up and trudge out into the night to view them.

As a bonus, the Taurid meteors peaked earlier in the week, amidst a little interference from the moon. But their peak being so extended, there is a good chance to see a lingering one while watching for the Leonids.

The Leonids enter the atmosphere at a blazing 44 miles a second, so they are fast, and produce some bright fireballs. In contrast, the Taurids are known for producing slower fireballs, slowly blazing into existence, and traveling a greater distance across the dark sky.

With the two showers overlapping on a moonless night, the opportunity to view a few of each in a quarter of an hour are excellent. So, get out and give it a go!

As I mentioned, virtually all of the visible planets are on the far side of the sun, so they all set early in the evening, shortly after the sun, or rise late in the morning just before sunrise.

There is still a chance to view Jupiter and Venus in close proximity in the early morning sky. They rise just before sunrise, so if you’re out early watching for the meteor showers, stay a little longer, and watch with a keen eye for the two as they rise just before the sun.

Venus is the brighter of the two, with Jupiter to the right. They both are visible at about six o’clock, and for a little more than a half an hour before sunrise.

Thanks for the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.

William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

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