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Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Clear Skies - The Leonid Meteor Shower, the Planets, and the ISS



 Mercury and Mars are too close to the rising sun in the morning to see them, but Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are still visible in the evening sky.

Venus is visible just after sunset, low in the southwest.  You have to catch it early, as it sets by about 7 p.m.  It is shining quite brightly so you will know it when you are see it.

Saturn and Jupiter are also visible after sunset, more towards the south.  Saturn is a bit further to the left of Venus than the distance from your thumb to your pinkie outstretched at arm’s length.  It might be easier to find the much brighter Jupiter still further left, and then go back to the right about the distance from your index finger to pinkie outstretched at arm’s length.  Jupiter is much brighter, but Saturn is the next brightest “star” in that area.

Leonid Meteor Shower

The annual Leonid Meteor shower peaks in the morning of Wednesday, November 17. However, because of the timing of the peak, you can hope to see a few meteors both Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Unfortunately we are approaching Full Moon (Friday) so the sky won’t be very dark, which will limit the number of fainter meteors we can see.  Still, some patient viewing may provide you with a few nice meteors.

Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through the tail of dust left behind by a comet when it crossed Earth’s orbit, and these dust tails can last many years.  As Earth ploughs into this dust, the dust burns up in the upper atmosphere, creating those beautiful bright streaks.  Occasionally we even get a fireball, which is the spectacular result of a larger bit of rock causing a much brighter flash - sometimes greenish - and often leaving a trail after it has passed.

To get the most from the meteor shower, try to observe from a fairly dark location, out of sight of direct house or street lights.  The meteors can appear in any part of the sky, although they seem to originate in the constellation Leo, from which they get their name.  Try to avoid looking near the Moon, or even at it, as it will affect your ability to see faint meteors.  Then, choose the largest unobstructed area of sky you can find, relax, and wait!

Remember to dress warmly – for about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the actual temperature.  Give your eyes a few minutes to adapt to the dark; the longer you are out, the more faint meteors you will be able to see – well, the Moon notwithstanding!

But, there is always a bit of luck to how many you will see; there is no guarantee of a good show.

Partial Lunar Eclipse… but not here!

You may have heard that there will be a partial eclipse of the Moon on November 19, however it will be mainly visible from eastern Europe and Africa, so we won’t be able to enjoy this one.

International Space Station

For those of us on Vancouver Island and the lower BC mainland, we have a chance to see four short passes of the International Space Station over the next week or so.

On Sunday, November 21, the ISS will rise in the WSW at 6:49 p.m. and will climb about half way up the sky, passing well above Saturn and Venus, and coming close to the bright star Aquilla (the lowest star in the large Summer Triangle) after which it will fade out at 6:53 as it enters Earth’s shadow.

On Monday, November 22, the ISS rises in the southwest at 6:02 p.m., passes above Saturn and Jupiter, and crosses the southern sky.  After it passes below the Great Square of Pegasus, it will fade from view in the ESE at 6:08.

Tuesday, November 23, sees two passes, a lower long one first, and then a shorter brighter pass an hour and a half later.  Rising first at 5:15 p.m., ISS passes close to Venus, and then continues on close to both Saturn and Jupiter.  It stays low across the sky disappearing in Earth’s shadow just above the horizon in the east at 5:23.

Then, at 6:52, ISS rises again, in the WSW, climbing towards bright Lyra (the upper right star in the Summer Triangle).  As it approaches Lyra at 6:56, it will fade into Earth’s shadow.

 

Clear skies.

David Prud'homme

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