Prime Viewing Tomorrow and Friday nights!
For those teachers that are in Astronomy units with their students right now, be aware that the Leonid Meteor Shower is in prime viewing position on Thursday and Friday nights this week:
Though the meteors can be viewed all night long, on both days, just around midnight and at around 3 a.m. local time, those who stay up should be rewarded with the best view of the rain of falling stars if it's not cloudy.
Though the annual shower will be less spectacular than in some years, "the Leonids are pretty famous for having a good number of bright ones," says Ben Burress, staff astronomer at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland.
For those who don't want to get up in the middle of the night, just before moonrise is a good time to watch, Burress says. Thursday, that will be around 11:30 p.m. On Friday night/Saturday morning, moonrise will be at 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Though the shower itself lasts for several weeks, the peak comes at around 3 a.m. both Friday and Saturday morning, when the maximum number of meteors should be falling. Because the moon will be in quarter phase, its light will wash some of the shower out, so go out before moonrise.
Next year, the meteor shower viewing conditions will be better. It is easier to see the meteors when the moon is in crescent phase or new phase.
If you are wondering how to explain to your students what a meteor (or shooting star) is, this simple and very catchy tune by They Might Be Giants from their grammy winning album "Here Comes Science" will help to clear things up. The actual song starts at around 2:30 in the video...this is a live performance of it with sock puppets.