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Volume XVII, Issue 46 ~ November 12 - November 18, 2009

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Dawn of the Leonids

You won’t want to miss it

The waning crescent moon rises before dawn at week’s end. As it crests the horizon a little before 4am Friday morning, the steady glow of Saturn shines roughly 10 degrees above the moon, while twinkling blue-white Spica shines about the same distance behind to the east of the moon. Saturday, the moon rises at 5am, and now Spica hovers just a few degrees above its pointy upper tip. You’ll need a clear view of the southeast to spot the last sliver of moon rising around 6am Sunday; brilliant Venus blazes not five degrees above the moon.

Monday’s new moon bodes well for this year’s Leonid meteor shower, which peaks before dawn on Tuesday, November 17. The Leonids are spawned from bits of debris shed from Comet Tempel-Tuttle as it swings into our inner solar system every 33 years. Such a frequent visitor has left myriad debris trails, and some years earth passes through very dense patches, or even several different trails, resulting in a meteor storm. While astronomers are expecting several hundred meteors each hour across Asia, our display will be more modest.

“We’re predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. While the Leonids appear to emanate from their namesake, the constellation Leo, this year the “Leonids will appear to be shooting almost directly out of the planet Mars,” Cooke adds.

Shining almost twice as bright as Regulus, the heart of Leo, there’s no mistaking Mars. But as the Leonids are some of the fastest moving meteors, streaking through earth’s atmosphere at 147,000 miles per hour with lingering trails, it’s unlikely that you’ll mistake any of these beauties.

Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2009 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.

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