Western Slope Skies - 11/7/14

November’s Meteor Shower

The November Leonid meteor shower has produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history.     

Meteors, or “shooting stars”, are small pieces of comets that enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, glow to incandescence, and usually disintegrate.    A meteor storm takes place when these particles are denser or larger than normal, resulting in brighter and very frequent meteors.

Each year at this time, Earth passes through regions of space that the Leonid shower’s parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle, visited during previous trips around the Sun. Debris left by the comet then enters our atmosphere, and we see meteors.  This year, you may see the greatest number of Leonid meteors between midnight and dawn on the mornings of November 17 and 18, although lesser numbers may be seen as early as November 6 or as late as November 30th.

While a meteor storm is unlikely this year, the Leonids occasionally produce “fireballs” or meteors that are bright enough to cast shadows.  This year, we can expect a rate of 15 – 25 meteors per hour. A slight crescent moon, rising at 2 a.m. on the 17th and 3 a.m. on the 18th, should not interfere with viewing meteors that could be quite impressive.

The Leonids got their name from the fact that if one traces all the meteor trails backward, they would meet at a point called the “radiant” within the boundaries of the constellation of Leo the Lion.  Although Leionid meteors appear to originate or “radiate” from Leo, they may be seen all over the sky.    

Mid-November nights are cold, so dress warmly and consider bringing blankets and lawn chairs. You won’t be doing anything physical, so your body will lose heat. Snacks and warm nonalcoholic drinks will help counteract chilling. Sit back and enjoy our Colorado night skies!

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society.  This episode was written by Ricky Smith & recorded by Bryan Cashion.