With the Perseid meteor showers just concluded (and not one word in the local media about them) Your Examiner is taking this opportunity to propose another back-to-school science project.
How About A Little Astronomy?
We’re uniquely situated in Florida to observe the sky after dark.
We don’t have mountains.
We do have hundreds of miles of coastline at or slightly below sea level with unobstructed views of the horizon.
We have NASA, loads of it.
In GreaterJax™ it’s still easy enough to get away from the city lights to get a clear view of the night sky.
Meteors Are Shooting Stars
What you may have learned to call shooting stars as a kid are what astronomers call meteors, chunks of rock left over from asteroid strikes, explosions and comets’ tails passing close enough to the Earth’s atmosphere to get sucked into our gravitational field.
They heat up as they fall through the atmosphere and glow. Sometimes they have enough mass to make all the way to ground, but usually not.
You can tell a shooting star from other moving objects in the night sky – like airplanes and satellites – because they flare very brightly, travel in a arc, and wink out when they burn up.
How Much Advance Warning Do I Have?
That’s the beauty part.
The Leonid meteor showers are visible in Greater Jacksonville from November 10, 2011 – November 23, 2011
The best time to view them is in the dead of night, so you’ll need to plan ahead to be awake between 3:00 a.m. and 4:15 a.m. just before the sun comes up.
The best time to see the showers is November 18, 12:04 Universal Time. What that means to us in GreaterJax™ is that we need to be in our backyards looking up and northeast at about about a 7 p.m. to get the best view of the Leonids.
The big thing for meteor buffs is to keep track of how many meteors they see each hour. Document the time and the date.
Sometimes the shower is bright enough to catch with a good digital camera. Other nights you might need a telescope to take pictures.
Other times it’s easier to go to a planetarium and watch with a professional astronomer.
Check with the University of Florida and Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and History.
UF has a public viewing of the Leonids on its schedule.
A Little About The Leonids
The meteors that make up the Leonids shower are remnants of comet Tempel-Tuttle (Comet 55P). The Earth passes through the comet’s debris field once a year in November, and we see the Leonids.
The Leonids take their name from the constellation Leo because that’s where they seem to fall from in our night sky. The meteors fall very quickly and most leave “trains,” visible trails that make them easier to see. Astronomers estimate than you should be able to see about 115 streaks when the showers are at their peak.
The earliest recorded observations of the Leonids date back to Wednesday, October 26, 901 AD, in Alexandria, Egypt.
(Believe it or not.)
There have been hundreds of reports since, but not until the Great Leonids of 1833 did scientists really begin to study the frequency of meteor showers. Of all the known annual showers, only the Leonids “storm.”
Don’t Wait! Practice With The Draconids in October
You don’t have to wait until November to see your first meteor, however.
Here’s a schedule of the rest of the meteor showers visible in the Lower 48 (including Greater Jacksonville) for the rest of 2011:
- Draconids – night of October 8
- Orionids – night of October 21
- Geminids – night of December 13
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OFFICIAL BIO:K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years, most recently in Texas, is a successful grant writer, knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design and wants to work in the public sector. Contact: [email protected]