The Leonids

One of my favorite things about November is the Leonid meteor shower.  It happens each year when Earth crosses the path of Comet Tempel-Tuggle.  That means shooting stars. Sometimes thousands of them, although this year’s prediction is for a much more modest ten to fifteen per hour.

 Photo Credit: ikewinski via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ikewinski via Compfight cc

The best time to see the meteors will be on Monday after midnight.  It will be cold–the forecast for Santa Fe is in the high teens, but it’s supposed to be clear and even the moon is cooperating.  Beautiful and full a couple of weeks ago, it’s now waning and by Monday night will be a crescent, putting out very little interfering light.

Everything you need to know about watching the meteor shower is in Deborah Byrd’s EarthSky.org post.  She recommends finding a dark place away from lights, lying back, and watching the sky for at least an hour.

Waiting for that first meteor to streak across the sky is the perfect time to look for one of my favorite constellations, Cassiopeia.  First, locate the Big Dipper and then use the two pointer stars in the cup to find Polaris, the bright north star.   Beyond Polaris is a group of five bright stars named for the Ethiopian queen of Greek mythology.  The grouping doesn’t look much like a queen or even her throne, as some claim, but much more like an M (or, a W in the summer when it is on the other side of the sky).

As much as I love stargazing I’ll still have to gear myself up for such a late night on a Monday.  Before the sun drops behind the Jemez Mountains I’ll position the chaise lounges on the portal for the best view of the sky and outfit them with blankets and pillows.  At midnight I’ll make mugs of hot chocolate just before Dave and I turn off all of the lights and go outside.  It will be cold, but I know from past experience that Byrd is right, “. . . even one bright meteor can make your night”.

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