Friday, November 10, 2006

Clouded Out!

Looks like we're in for a weekend of cloudy and possibly rainy weather, which means no star hunting tonight (Friday, Nov. 10). Enjoy the wet stuff folks, and maybe we'll get back to star gazing next month.

-- Dave

Meteor Magic on Demand

Meteor Magic on Demand
by Dave Adalian

Almost everyone has been dazzled by the sight of a meteor burning its way across the dark heavens on a starry night.

There’s something magical about those little bits of dust no bigger than a grain of rice superheating the atmosphere as they come rushing at speeds dozens of times faster than sound.

The only trouble is you can never tell when you’ll see a shooting star.

Some may say not knowing when a meteor will fall from the sky is part of their particular magic. I happen to disagree.

Even when you know there is likely to be a meteor shower, as there should be Saturday night, Nov. 18, when the Leonids reach their annual peak, the magic is still powerful.

Those who wish to experience this bit of scheduled magic will find the shower’s peak timed slightly too early for our side of the globe, but there should still be a good show.

The Leonids, which take their name from the constellation Leo the Lion where they appear to originate, should reach highest concentration at about 8:45 p.m.

While it will already be plenty dark by then, Leo will not have risen above the eastern horizon and won’t until around 2 a.m., which is the best time to see the Leonids.

Even so, at the time of the peak observers here may get a special treat, an abundance of “Earth grazers”, meteors that shoot from one side of the sky to the other. The number of meteors to be seen is impossible to say, though a more realistic count is 10 to 25 an hour during the course of the entire night.

That number, of course, describes what might be seen under ideal conditions of a dark sky with Leo well above the horizon at the moment of the shower’s peak.

While there won’t be a high flying lion at peak, we can maximize our meteor potential by seeking darker skies than those in our backyard. Falling star seekers should head to the hills or at least well outside the city limits as urban viewers will miss three quarters of the show.

Wherever you go to view the Leonids, bring along a chair that will let you comfortably scan the sky about 60 degrees above the horizon, and point your toes toward the darkest part of the night.

Remember to dress warmly for an extended stay in the cold, and don’t forget the warm drinks and snacks.


Join the star hunters of the Tulare Astronomical Association this Friday night, Nov. 10, 7-9 p.m. for a look at the stars of late autumn at the Arthur L. Purcell Observatory, 9242 Ave. 182, 2.1 miles west of Highway 99 and south of Tulare. Information and directions:


This column originally appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register on Nov. 9, 2006.