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Monday, November 16, 2009

Leonid meteors light up the night

Starting at a predicted 1 am time slot, the 2009 Leonid meteor shower, named after  the constellation Leo it seems to radiate from, will burn through the sky tomorrow (11/17). Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris trail along the orbit of a comet, says UF astronomy department associate professor Jonathan Tan. 

"That's why each meteor shower always happens at the same time each year," he says. 

Tomorrow Earth will pass through the trail of comet Tempel-Tuttle. The spectacle of lights will be an assortment of ice and dust particles that have been left behind by the comet. From 1 am until dawn will be the best time to look out for the showers. There is an estimated peak of 30 meteors per hour expected around 4 am (Asia will see about 200 meteors per hour!). 

Head out suited up with cozy blankets and lots of coffee though because to get the best experience you will have to wait it out - meteor showers and its frequencies are unpredictable. Tan recommends you head out to a dark, rural area and allow your eyes at least 10 minutes to adjust to the dark skies. You don't need anything but your naked eye to enjoy the show. 

"Any dark location with an unobstructed view of the sky is fine," Tan says. He suggests the Paynes Prairie lookout (U.S. 441, about 8 miles south of campus) as a popular spot to catch the show. 

-Stephanie Granada

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