Space.com’s story on tonight’s Leonid meteor shower doesn’t encourage me to stay up, or get up to watch (tomorrow morning’s meteor shower, really). A “strong show,” but not spectacular numbers, and our living so close to Dallas will help obscure much of what would be visible normally.
The first cloud of comet dust was released from the nucleus of Tempel-Tuttle back in the year 1567. North America will be turned toward the constellation Leo when these particles begin pelting the upper layers of our atmosphere, some 80 to 100 miles (130 to 160 km.) above us. Earth’s encounter with the comet dust is going to be brief – possibly no more than several hours long.
Unfortunately, we won’t be going directly through the center of cloud, but rather skim through its outer edge on Nov. 17, chiefly between about 4:30 and 10:30 GMT. As a consequence, the meteor rate is not expected to get much higher than 20 or 30 per hour (on average about one meteor sighting every two or three minutes). Still, this is about two to three times the normal Leonid rate.
At the beginning of this window, it will still be dark across Europe and western Africa with Leo high up in the southeast sky, but within an hour the sky will be brightening as sunrise approaches, soon putting an end to meteor watching.
North Americans – especially those living near and along the Atlantic Seaboard – will be able to watch for Leonids from after 1 a.m. local time right on until the first light of dawn, which comes soon after 5 a.m. local time.
I’ll wager more people will be up watching the new movie 2012 about a wholly fictional collision with Earth than will watch the real collisions from parts of an old comet (Tempel-Tuttle).