Weather gloomy for Leonid meteor shower
The annual Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak in the hours before dawn Wednesday. But the weather forecast is pretty discouraging for those who might have been willing to get up before dawn (or stay up late tonight) to watch.
The Leonids occur every year around this time as the Earth, in its orbit around the sun, passes through the dusty debris cast off by Comet Tempel-Tuttle during ITS orbit around the sun. As the planet plows through the dust, like a car through a swarm of bugs, the dust grains smack into the atmosphere, vaporizing and heating the gases until they light up in a bright trail.
The Leonids have a history of some spectacular "storm" years, with hundreds of meteors per hour as the Earth moves through some especially thick clouds of comet dust. But this is not expected to be one of those years. Counts are likely to be average, around 20 an hour in dark (and clear) locations.
It would have been a pretty good year for this shower, with the waxing moon setting several hours before the peak hours before dawn. But the forecast calls for rain showers and possibly some thunderstorms overnight.
There's some chance skies could clear in time; the forecast for Wednesday has improved, calling for mostly sunny skies eventually. But it will pay to check the sky before you throw on your clothes to go out and watch.
If we do get lucky, look for a dark place to watch the show. Urban light pollution will wash out all bu the brightest meteors. The meteors will appear to radiate away from the constellation Leo (the direction of the Earth's current motion along its orbit), high over head in the hours before dawn. So you can spread out on the grass or stretch out on a lounge chair and look in just about any part of the sky.
And, while Wednesday morning is the peak, there may well be more straggling Leonids to see on Thursday morning. Same instructions. Doubtful forecast.