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Science and the Environment
Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Two Astronomy Events this Weekend Offer Excuses to Stare Up at the Night Sky

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Mike Lewinski
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If you don’t mind getting up really early this weekend and spending time in the cold, you’ll be able to see some meteors. 

The best times for viewing the Leonids Meteor Shower will be midnight Friday night through early Saturday morning and midnight Saturday night through early Sunday morning.  But skies are expected to be cloudy Saturday night, so Friday night will be the best time for people in the Ozarks to see the meteor shower.

Becky Baker, astronomy professor at Missouri State University, said you should expect to see 10 to 15 meteors per hour.

"Basically what you're looking at is the debris that is left over from the comet, Tempel Tuttle, and it rounds the sun about every 33 years, and so, as it does it tends to leave a debris trail--out gases, and you have all kinds of stuff that is left behind, and so, when the Earth's orbit runs into that debris field then we get to see these really cool meteors in the sky," Baker said.

The Leonids occur annually.  But Baker said the number of meteors we can see each year various depending on where the comet is and what material it’s left.  In 1833, according to Baker, viewers saw an incredible 100,000 meteors per hour.

The moon might interfere with viewing while it’s out, she said, but you’ll still be able to see meteors.

Baker offers advice to anyone thinking about heading out to watch the Leonids Meteor Shower this weekend.

"You want to go out and find someplace where it's really dark.  You want to have nice, open views of the sky.  Leo is actually in the east, and so, you really want to look toward the east...it will appear to come from Leo but, yet, I would not go ahead and just concentrate on Leo because this meteor shower has a tendency to produce meteors that have long trails, and so, if you just concentrate on Leo then you may not be able to see those other really cool meteors that are around there," Baker said, "so I would suggest that you just get out and just basically look up."

And she said you need to dress warmly.  Temperatures Friday night will be in the upper 30s.  But the cold will be worth it since winter skies are the clearest, according to Baker.  That's because there’s not a lot of humidity in the air due to the cold.

Another astronomy event this weekend is NASA Observing Night Friday night, November 16, from 6 to 9 at MSU’s Baker Observatory near Marshfield. 

Several telescopes will be set up and focused on various things in the night sky such as planets and the moon.  You’ll also be able to look through two larger telescopes at the observatory.  And "just so that people are familiar with the night sky," Baker said, "what I get to do is every 15 minutes do a little bit of a talk and hand out maps of what they will see and what's in the sky...for November.  That way they'll have the map, they can go outside, look up, and while they're waiting on being able to get into the telescope, find the constellations, the bright stars, things like that."

Other experts on astronomy will be there, too, to help you know what you’re looking at.  Take a flashlight with red cellophane over it to avoid light pollution.

"It's kind of a come and go.  That's why we talk about it as an open house, but we want you to experience as much as you can with the telescopes," Baker said.  "I don't care whether you're, you know, three-years-old or 110...we'll make sure that we accomodate you in terms of looking through the scope.  I was six-years-old when I saw Saturn for the first time, and I still remember it, so I think it's very important to bring the little ones out as well."