Keep your eyes on the sky during the pre-dawn hours starting over night and again on Tuesday, Nov. 20, because that's when the famous Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak. These meteors are fast (about 40 miles per second) and can leave trails of smoke, according to Astronomy.com. They will appear to radiate from the constellation Leo the Lion and can vary in color.
"Many Leonids are also bright. Usually, the meteors are white or bluish-white, but in recent years some observers reported yellow-pink and copper-colored ones," according to Astronomy.com.
The Leonids shower is so-called because the meteors seem to radiate outward from the constellation Leo. The starting point, called the radiant for obvious reasons, is found in the part of Leo that looks like a backwards question mark.
Samantha Sprague, curator of education at the South Florida Museum, said that while the stars can fall in any direction, knowing when and where Leo will rise will help you set your eyes in the right direction.
Stellarium, a free software, shows Leo rising at 2:19 a.m. in the east.
Sprague said for best viewing of any shower, try to find a spot with a nice clear horizon, away from the city or street lights and allow your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness and unfocus your gaze to a general area of sky.In Bradenton, the further east you travel away from the city, the better the viewing.
"Be prepared to quickly turn your eyes to sudden streaks of light as most meteors are very tiny and their glow fleeting," Sprague said.
Here's one of the 10 coolest things to know about the Leonids, from Space.com: "Leonids are spawned by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years, it rounds the Sun and then goes back to the outer solar system. On each passage across Earth's orbit, Tempel-Tuttle lays down another trail of debris..."
The Leonids have been called a meteor "storm" (rather than just a "shower") some years, but reports say this year will be limited to "at best 10 to 15 meteors per hour." The last Leonid storm, with thousands of shooting stars per hour, was in 2002.
A report from MSNBC says there is a reason this year's display is a bit different: there will be "two peaks of activity, one in the predawn hours Saturday and another on Tuesday morning (Nov. 20)."
What is a meteor? It's the streak of light that we see when a meteoroid enters Earth's atmosphere. The Leonids usually contain many bright meteors with trails that can be seen for several minutes. Fireballs may be seen with the naked eye.
The shower began in mid-November. To see the Leonids, lie outside in a dark place between midnight and dawn. Point your feet east and look carefully.
To make sure you get the best view possible, remember to check the weather forecast and conditions before you head outside to watch.