“The Leonid meteor shower — a yearly event that in the past has produced some spectacular displays — will peak Wednesday night, with about 15 meteors per hour expected.
To get a good look, Bay Area skywatchers will have to contend with an unhelpful moon, encroaching clouds and the usual light pollution.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris produced by a comet — in this case, the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids appear to radiate from their namesake constellation, Leo, toward the north.
Occasionally Leonids reach the status of meteor storm, say the experts at NASA, with thousands of meteors per hour. A burst of Leonid activity produced spectacular displays from 1998 to 2002, but these events generally recur in cycles of about 33 years.
Wednesday night, the waxing gibbous moon, three days away from full, will interfere with viewing, and it won’t set until around 4 a.m. And at that point, predicted increasing cloudiness could hamper predawn skywatching.
(Weather note: The partly cloudy Thursday is a precursor to a wet weekend, with rain likely Friday night through Saturday nights, the National Weather Service says. The chance of precipitation will diminish Sunday and Monday, but cooler temperatures those nights — lows will dip into the 30s at higher elevations — mean the local mountaintops could get the season’s first dusting of snow.)
Even if the Leonids are a disappointment, meteor satisfaction might be just a few weeks away: The Geminids, which generally are among the best showers of the year, will peak on the night of Dec. 13, with about 50 meteors per hour predicted by the meteor-watching guide of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Time of optimal viewing is 2 a.m.”
This should be an exciting event for Bay Area sky gazers. The Leonid meteor showers are an annual, natural phenomenon that has been occuring for many, many years. Even if you can not witness this particular meteor shower, there are other meteor showers which occur throughout the year. The significance of viewing this event is simple: you are an advocate for darker skies. Sure, there is natural phenomenon which can obscure our view of the stars, but consider the human phenomenon, light pollution. Light pollution is 100% reversible. We have the tools to reverse this process, yet fumble to build a more sustainable dark sky. Inform your local and national representatives about the virtues of a darker sky: reduced energy consumption, improved circadian rhythm cycles, reduced risk of breast cancer and increased wildlife protection.
Let there be night!