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Perseid Meteor Shower 2018: 5 Things To Know

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CHICAGO (CBS)–The Perseid meteor shower of 2018 is almost upon us. The display of meteors will light up the sky between August 11 and 13.

Although the spectacle is considered the best display of meteors of the year in some parts of the country, it turns out Chicago is not the best place to catch glimpses of glittering showers of space matter.

That’s according to Michelle Nichols, director of public observing for the Adler Planetarium.

Perseid meteor shower (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Meteor enthusiasts in Chicago have two factors working against them: the bright city lights and the moon, which will be shining in its crescent form this weekend  when the meteor shower passes by.

“People often ask when we can see it in the city, and to be honest you may not see it at all,” Nichols said. “Light pollution affects what you can see.”

Nichols says to drive about 60 to 70 miles outside of the city for the best chance of seeing the Perseid Meteor.

According to Space.com, during peak hours people should see about 60-70 meteors per hour.

Here are 5 facts to know about the Perseid meteor 2018. 

1.) What is the Perseid Meteor? Nichols describes it as an annual phenomenon when earth runs into the trail of debris left by a comet.

2.) What time can the meteor be seen? Between midnight and 5 a.m. on Aug. 11 and 12.

3.) What areas near Chicagoland would make good viewing spots? The Indiana Dunes, Starved Rock National park and Lake Geneva are all remote enough for good viewing conditions. The Illinois State Museum-Dickson Mounds in downstate Lewistown, Ill. is hosting a family-friendly viewing party. 

4.) Where in the sky will the meteor be seen? Nichols suggests viewers look to the east while lying down on a lawn chair to avoid strain on the neck. “If you were to draw the lines of the meteors and connect them back to where they started, they all seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus,” she said.

5.) How long should you wait to see the lights before calling it a night? If you’re in the city, be prepared to wait a long time–if not indefinitely. In rural areas, the showers should be visible within a few minutes.

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Famous but fickle Leonid meteor shower awaits weekend viewing

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If it’s the middle of November, it must be time for the Leonid meteor shower to streak the night skies over the Northern Hemisphere.

This famous and erraticly spectacular annual show results from the Earth moving through the trail of debris cast off by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which comes around these parts of our solar system every 33.3 years as it orbits our sun.

Although the Leonids (so named because the radiant point of the shower seems to be in the constellation Leo, although they can be seen anywhere in the sky) reliably produce about 10 to 15 meteors per hour, they sometimes present a dazzling and dizzying display referred to as a meteor storm. In the past, this has resulted in an estimated 3,000 meteors per minute

A 1997 view from space of the Leonid meteor shower.
NASA

One of the most famous storms, in 1833, produced an estimated 100,000 meteors per hour and helped kick-start modern research into meteors. (The image at the top, an 1889 engraving by Adolf Vollmy—based on a painting by Swiss artist Karl Jauslin that was itself based on a first-person account—depicts that storm, which was visible over most of North America.) Subsequent storms seemed to occur about the same time as the comet’s orbital period, or about every 33 years, presumably coinciding with a fresh dump of sand- and pea-sized particles that would burn up as they got dragged into our planet’s atmosphere and provide celestial fireworks.

This hasn’t always been the case, however, and experts are predicting that this will not be a storm year.

The peak viewing days for the Leonids are the mornings of November 17 and 18 (meaning Friday night/Saturday morning and Saturday night/Sunday morning). And although the weather in the Vancouver are looks to be cooperating for the weekend, with clear and variably cloudy skies, the bright moon will drown out the fainter meteors. Therefore, the best bet to view meteors is not to stay up until after midnight and compete with both city lights and the moon but to go to bed early and get up at about 3 a.m., as the moon sets, and watch until the morning light floods the sky.

Then take a nap.

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How to watch the Leonids, a dazzling meteor shower coming this weekend

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This weekend, head outside and look up to catch a glimpse of the Leonid meteor shower.

The Leonids are famous for being some of the most spectacular meteor storms in recorded history. They tend to occur every 33 years, though the last one happened less than 20 years ago in 2001.

In 2018, expect to see 15-20 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak on Saturday night, according to AccuWeather. The radiant point is the constellation Leo, but meteors will rain down in all parts of the sky.

Though the moon is in its gibbous phase, it will set after midnight and leave the sky open for a dazzling display of shooting stars.

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The Leonid meteor shower peaks under a dark sky this weekend

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The always reliable Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak Sunday morning, November 18. Once the waxing gibbous Moon sets shortly before 2 a.m. local time, skywatchers will have more than three hours of undisturbed viewing before twilight starts to paint the sky. For the best show, observers should head as far from the city as possible — artificial lights drown out fainter meteors and render the brighter ones less impressive. Under rural skies, people with good eyesight should see an average of 15 to 20 meteors per hour.

Leonid meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Leo the Lion (hence the shower’s name). This star group rises in late evening and climbs high in the southeast by the time twilight begins shortly after 5 a.m. The meteors blaze into the atmosphere at 44 miles per second, the fastest of any shower meteors. The high speeds mean they produce a greater percentage of fireballs — meteors at least as bright as the brilliant planet Venus — than most showers.

Leonid meteors begin their lives as part of a comet known as 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. This comet returns to the inner solar system every 33 years. Each time it approaches the Sun, our star’s heat warms the icy nucleus, turning the ice to gas and releasing trapped dust particles in the process. The dust spreads out along the comet’s orbit, and every November Earth runs into this stream. As the dust particles slam into our planet’s upper atmosphere, they burn up from friction to create the flashes of light we see in the sky.

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