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The Leonid meteor shower of 2020 peaks tonight! Here's what to expect. – Space.com

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One of the most famous annual meteor showers is reaching its peak — the Leonids. These ultrafast meteors are due to crest overnight tonight and into early Tuesday morning (Nov. 16-17).  

The Leonids are known for producing some of the most amazing meteor displays in the annals of astronomy. Most notable are meteor storms in 1799, 1833 and 1966, when meteor rates of tens of thousands per hour were observed. More recently, in 1999, 2001 and 2002, lesser Leonid displays of “only” a few thousand meteors per hour took place.

Unfortunately, those turn-of-the-century showers gave some skywatchers the impression that they could expect a similar occurrence of celestial fireworks from the Leonids every year. So, it is important to stress at the outset that any suggestion of a spectacular meteor Leonid display this year is, to put it mildly, overly optimistic.

Leonid meteor shower 2020: When, where & how to see it

If you’re expecting a memorable sky show early on Tuesday morning, we’re sorry to break this to you: The 2020 version of the Leonids is more than likely going to be a disappointment, since the shower will probably be weak and there likely will be long stretches when not a single one will be seen.

The 2020 Leonid meteor shower will have a period of activity from Nov. 6 to Nov. 30. It will peak on the night of Nov. 16-17. The shower’s radiant is located at the center of this stellar map, in the constellation Leo, the lion. (Image credit: © Dominic Ford/In-The-Sky.org)

Comet crumbs

The Leonids received their moniker because the shower’s emanation point — the spot from which the meteors seem to fan out — is located within the constellation of Leo, the Lion, from within the backward question mark pattern of stars known as “The Sickle.” 

The meteors are caused by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which sweeps through the inner solar system every 33.3 years. Each time the comet passes closest to the sun, it leaves a “river of rubble” in its wake — a dense trail of dusty debris. A meteor storm is possible only if Earth passes directly through a fresh dust trail ejected by the comet over the past couple of centuries. 

The lion’s share (no pun intended) of comet dust can be found just ahead of and trailing behind Tempel-Tuttle. The comet last swept through the inner solar system in 1998. That’s why spectacular meteor showers were seen in 1999, 2001 and 2002, with declining numbers thereafter. 

In 2016, Tempel-Tuttle reached aphelion, the point in its orbit that’s farthest from the sun —1.84 billion miles (2.96 billion kilometers). Now the comet is on its way back toward the inner solar system and will sweep closest to the sun again in May 2031.  

Related: The Leonid meteor shower explained in 10 facts

Slim pickings in 2020

But it’s also in the general vicinity of the comet where the heaviest concentrations of meteoroids are found as well. In contrast, at the point in the comet’s orbit that Earth will be passing through on Tuesday morning, there’s only a scattering of particles, bits of comet debris that crumbled off the comet’s frozen nucleus perhaps a millennia or two ago. 

So, the 2020 Leonids are expected to show only low activity this year. Mikhail Maslov, a highly regarded Russian expert in meteor shower predictions, forecasts a “plateau-like” level of maximum activity, which he suggests will stay approximately at the same level — about 15 per hour — during the period from 0300 GMT to 2000 GMT on Nov. 17 (10:00 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST on Nov. 16-17). 

Canadian meteor forecasters Margaret Campbell-Brown and Peter Brown are a little more optimistic. In the 2020 “Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada,” the duo suggest rates of up to 20 per hour, with a maximum occurring at 1200 GMT (7 a.m. EST) on Nov. 17. That comes at or before sunrise throughout much of North America.  

The International Meteor Organization forecasts rates of 10 to 20 per hour, with a peak at around 1100 GMT (6 a.m. EST) on Nov. 17. The moon is just past new and will pose no interference whatsoever. But whatever forecast you trust, be mindful that even at their very best, Leonids are expected to dart across your line of sight on an average of once every 3 to 6 minutes. And that’s assuming you have a wide-open view of the entire sky and are blessed with dark, non-light polluted conditions. 

How to observe and what to look for

Watching a meteor shower is a relatively straightforward pursuit. It consists of lying back, looking up at the sky and waiting. Keep in mind that any local light pollution or obstructions like tall trees or buildings will further reduce your chances of making a meteor sighting.

Leo does not start coming fully into view until the after-midnight hours, so that would be the best time to concentrate on looking for Leonids. As dawn is about to break at around 5 a.m. local time, The Sickle will have climbed more than two-thirds of the way up from the southeast horizon to the point directly overhead (called the zenith).  

Also, because the Leonids are moving along in their orbit around the sun in a direction opposite to that of Earth, they slam into our atmosphere nearly head-on, resulting in the fastest meteor velocities possible: 45 miles (72 km) per second. Such speeds tend to produce bright meteors, which leave long-lasting streaks or vapor trains in their wake.  

A mighty Leonid fireball can be quite spectacular, but such outstandingly bright meteors are likely to be very few and very far between this year (if any are seen at all).  

A look ahead

The good news is that, as Comet Tempel-Tuttle draws closer to the sun, the Leonids are expected to slowly improve. According to Maslov, a greater preponderance of bright meteors is possible, especially in 2022 and 2025. But the truly spectacular Leonid shows will not start coming until 2033, when both Maslov and another well-known forecaster, the Frenchman Jeremie Vaubaillion, predict hourly rates of several hundred or more possible. And the very best years of the next Leonid cycle will likely be in 2034 and 2035. 

In 2034, debris shed by Tempel-Tuttle from the year 1699 should lead to anywhere from 400 to 1600 Leonids per hour, followed some hours later by another surge of activity from material shed by the comet in 1767; 250 to 1000 Leonids per hour are possible. Finally, in 2035, 300 to 900 Leonids are possible from a dusty meteoroid trail dating back to 1633.  

But if you can’t wait until then, here’s some good news: A prolific meteor shower is coming our way in less than a month: the December Geminids, now considered to be the best meteor shower of the year, producing over 100 per hour. They are expected to peak on the night of Dec 13. Space.com will provide you with all the details as we get closer to that date. So, stay tuned!

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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A 2020 space oddity? Mysterious metal object found in Utah desert – Global News

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A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.

That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.

Read more:
Famous alien-hunting telescope shut down to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’

State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Its true origin is unknown.

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“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.

Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.

“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.

Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.

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“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.

The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.

State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.

Read more:
‘Hell’ planet found with lava oceans, rocky rain and supersonic winds

“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.

He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.

The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.

[embedded content]

No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.

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The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.

Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.

“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.

“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Utah monolith mystery: Wildlife officials' 12-ft desert discovery – Daily Mail

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Mystery of the 12-ft metal monolith discovered in middle of Utah desert – and it looks eerily similar to the machines in Space Odyssey

  • State workers in a helicopter noticed the shiny marker while flying overhead
  • About 10 to 12 feet tall, it’s planted in the ground and not dropped from above
  • There are no identifying markings and no one has claimed responsibility
  • Utah has a history of ‘land art’ placed in the desert far from population centers 

Government workers had a close encounter of the strange kind out in the Utah desert.

A crew with the state wildlife resources department was aboard a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter when they spotted a mysterious monolith sticking out of the dirt last week.

About 10 to 12 feet tall, the shiny metal object was firmly planted in the ground, suggesting it wasn’t just dropped from above.

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey – the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke’s story.

The unlabeled object is located inside a red rock cove but, fearful amateurs could endanger themselves trying to get a closer look, the workers have withheld details about its exact location.

Scroll down for video

Worker with Utah’s wildlife resources department spotted a shiny metal monolith in the desert. The object is between 10 and 12 feet tall and is firmly planted in the ground

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object.

‘One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,’ pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV. ‘He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘what.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there – we’ve got to go look at it!’

After the copter circled back and landed, the crew went into the cove to investigate.

‘We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?’ Hutchings said.

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey - the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke's story (pictured)

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey – the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke’s story (pictured) 

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object

The team was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep when they spotted the unidentified object

'We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?' said Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings

‘We were thinking, Is this something NASA stuck up there or something? Are they bouncing satellites off it?’ said Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings

State workers climb the monolith to give a sense of its size. A biologist with the wildlife resources office spotted the object from the sky, prompting the crew to land and investigate

State workers climb the monolith to give a sense of its size. A biologist with the wildlife resources office spotted the object from the sky, prompting the crew to land and investigate

‘We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it.’

All jokes aside, Hutchings believes the structure is probably some kind of artwork.

‘I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big [2001: A Space Odyssey] fan,’ he said.

Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV the unmarked object 'is about the strangest thing that I've come across out there in all my years of flying,'

Department of Public Safety pilot Bret Hutchings told KSL-TV the unmarked object ‘is about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,’

The monolith is located inside a red rock cove but workers have withheld details about its exact location to prevent others from endangering themselves trying to get a closer look

The monolith is located inside a red rock cove but workers have withheld details about its exact location to prevent others from endangering themselves trying to get a closer look

Utah has a history of ‘land art,’ unusual installations that cropped up far from population centers in the 1960s and ’70s.

The most famous, Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot-long coil by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 that’s composed entirely of mud, salt crystals and basalt.

Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point, the jetty appears and disappears depending on water levels.

Utah has a history of 'land art,' unusual installations far from population centers. Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, artist Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty is made of mud, salt and basalt rock

Utah has a history of ‘land art,’ unusual installations far from population centers. Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, artist Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is made of mud, salt and basalt rock

So far, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the monolith, though.

‘That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,’ Hutchings said.

The workers took video and photos of the object, but left in place.

So far, it hasn’t disturbed the bighorn sheep that live in the southern half of Utah.

Their population was once down to under a thousand in the 1970s, but conservation efforts have seen them make a big comeback in recent decades.

The crew was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep, which live in the southern half of Utah

The crew was in the remote area to count bighorn sheep, which live in the southern half of Utah

The sheep are less wary of people in early December, which is their mating season.

‘Because they’re focused on courtship and breeding, they’ll allow vehicles to get closer to them than they normally would,’ Brent Stettler of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told My National Parks Trip Media.

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A 2020 space oddity? Mysterious metal object found in Utah desert – cjoy.com

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A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.

That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.

Read more:
Famous alien-hunting telescope shut down to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’

State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Its true origin is unknown.

“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.

Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.

“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.

Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.

“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.

The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.

State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.

Read more:
‘Hell’ planet found with lava oceans, rocky rain and supersonic winds

“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.

He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.

The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.

[embedded content]

No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.

The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.

Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.

“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.

“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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