With the moon entering its "new" phase tonight, the skies should be ideally dark for viewing Tuesday morning's peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. And the weather forecast, while not ideal, calls for partly to mostly clear skies. With cooler air moving in with a high-pressure system out of the Great Lakes, our skies should be drying out from this morning's foggy humidity. That will help clear the atmosphere for the best view of the "shooting stars."

The Leonids occur each November when the Earth, in its annual orbit around the sun, passes through remnants of the dust trails left behind by the passage of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which passes through this area of the solar system every 33 years. Astronomers say the trails we'll be intersecting tonight were laid down by the comet in AD 1466 and 1533.


UPDATE: Here (left) is a meteor captured by amateur astrophotographer Mike Hankey, in northern Baltimore County, during the Leonid shower. It may be a "sporadic," rather than a Leonid. Still a nice shot, better than anything I've ever managed. Mike said:

"At the time I was focused on Procyon and shooting continuously and waiting and watching. I saw a meteor radiate directly out of [the bright star] Procyon and was like, NO WAY! But I check the camera screen and couldn't see anything. I didn't realize I caught it until this morning when I was reviewing the pics.

"It was much brighter in person, it's a little faint in the pic. Still really happy I caught it."

Earlier post resumes here:

Some Leonid showers have reached "storm" proportions, with counts of more than 1,000 per hour in some locations. This year's show, for eastern North America, is expected to produce rates of a more conventional 20-30 per hour. But any time you can spend an hour under the night sky and see 20 meteors, some with persistent trails, is a memorable night out.

The best time to look will be in the hours before dawn - say, 3 or 4 a.m. until the dawn begins to brighten the sky.

Intrepid meteor watchers should find the darkest location they can, as far from urban light pollution as possible. Look for a place with a broad view of the sky. The shower's "radiant" is the constellation Leo - the place in the sky from which the meteors seem to emerge as the Earth plows into them.

Leo rises in the northeast after 11 p.m. By 4 a.m. it will be high overhead, and the meteors will appear to be flying away from it in all directions. So you can look anywhere for them.

When it's over, as always, come back here, leave a comment and let everyone share the experience. Good luck!