How to watch the Leonids, a dazzling meteor shower coming this weekend
How to Watch the Leonids Meteor Shower
Around the middle of November each year, the Earth crosses the orbit of the 55P/Tempel-Tuttle comet. Though the comet is nowhere close to Earth at that time, it does leave a trail of dust and rock in its orbit. As the Earth crosses this orbit, the debris left behind by the comet hits the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The result is a series of beautiful bright lights streaking across the sky.
Choosing a Time to Watch
Research the moon phases.It is important to know what phase the moon is each night of the Leonids shower. The natural light from the moon can obstruct your view so that smaller meteors are undetectable and even bigger ones appear dim. Try to choose a night during the shower that the moon is in the new moon phase, or as close as possible.
- A full moon is the worst time to try and watch the Leonids meteor shower.
Find out the peak night for the shower.The shower usually peaks around November 17th. Consult an astronomy website or news source to confirm the peak date for this year. Assuming that the moon isn’t full or nearly full on this night, it will be the best time to watch the shower.
- The next major Leonids outburst is scheduled for 2033. These outbursts are when the show is most impressive to watch.Even in years when no major outbursts are expected, however, you can still catch a less spectacular show on a dark, clear night.
Choose the darkest hours.From midnight to dawn are the best hours to watch the Leonids meteor shower. During these hours, the sky is at its darkest. This makes it easier to see the meteors because there is less light interference.
Pick a dark location.Try to get out and away from cities. You want to find a place with as little light as possible and a good view of the sky. Keep your eye turned to the darkest part of the sky, and avoid looking at any lights (including a cell phone). You should also give your eyes 15 minutes or more to adjust to the low light.
- You could watch the shower from a mountain top or a clearing in the forest with a good view of the sky.
Enjoying the Wait
Bring a lawn chair.It can take a long time to spot meteors. Bring a lawn chair or some other outside furniture to lie back on. This will help you be comfortable while you wait to catch a glimpse of the Leonids meteor shower.
- Look for a beach chair or other outdoor chair that can recline. This way, you won’t hurt your neck staring up at the sky.
Cover yourself up.Being out all night in mid-November might get cold. Be sure to pack a blanket or sleeping bag to cover yourself up. Building a fire for heat will produce too much light and prevent you from seeing the shower.
Bring some drinks and snacks.Most skywatchers take a break every hour or so. This gives you a chance to stretch your legs and refuel. Bring some coffee or tea and a few snacks to keep you in it for the long haul. You will have to travel away from city lights and won’t have the convenience of just going to the kitchen for a snack.
Have a backup plan.If you can't make it out to watch the Leonids meteor shower, you can stream it online. Some astronomy websites, like space.com, stream the shower. This makes it easy for anyone who can't get away from the city (or doesn't want to) to watch the Leonids meteor shower.
Record your observations.Many amateur and professional astronomers like to keep a journal of their observations. For simple note keeping, just record the time and approximate location in the sky each time you see a meteor. You can use constellations as markers to help you record the location of each meteor.
Keep track of your breaks.You won’t have your eyes on the sky the entire night. You’ll have coffee breaks and snack breaks. You might even fall asleep at some point in the night. Keeping track of these times helps you know how long you were actually looking at the sky and how many meteors you saw (and how many you may have missed).
- If you are taking notes by hand, you should even record the time that you look down to take notes. You might be surprised at how much time this can be over the course of an entire night.
Filter your flashlight.You will need some light to function outside in the dark. Use a dim flashlight to provide this light. Covering the flashlight with a red filter will dim it even further and reduce the impact it has on your ability to see the meteor shower.
||Leonids Meteor Shower, New Mexico|
- Watch the Leonids meteor shower with a friend. This will help you pass the time enjoyably.
- Check the weather ahead of time, and be prepared for any bad whether.
- You can also watch the Leonids meteor shower online.
Video: How To WatchThe 2017 Leonid Meteor Shower
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