Difficult SA viewing for meteor shower

2010-11-15 22:16
Cape Town - There should be some strange lights in the sky on Wednesday as the Leonid meteor shower appears, but viewing conditions won't be fantastic.

"Conditions are expected to be poor for viewing the shower though, and the maximum predicted hourly rate is less than ten meteors per hour from South Africa," Dr Enrico A Olivier, outreach officer for South African Astronomical Observatory, told News24.

This meteor shower relates to comet Tempel-Tuttle which leaves material as it orbits the sun. As the material "clumps" it produces spectacular displays of hundreds of meteors per hour when the Earth passes through it.

This year, however, the viewing from SA will not be quite so spectacular, but will appear in the constellation of Leo, though it has nothing to do with the constellation.

"As the name indicates, the radiant of the meteor shower will be located in the constellation of Leo. The radiant is the point in the sky from which all the meteors appear to originate. Meteors, or more commonly called 'shooting stars', are small particles of space dust and debris that enter our atmosphere at high speeds, and burn up due to heat generated by air friction," said Olivier.

Best view

The annual shower was discovered in 1833 and people reacted with surprise to the brilliant fireballs that lit up the night sky.

"Reactions to the 1833 display varied from the hysterics of the superstitious claiming Judgement Day was at hand, to just plain excitement by the scientific, who estimated that a thousand meteors a minute emanated from the constellation Leo," said website Meteorshowersonline.com.

South Africans who want to get the best view of the meteor shower should observe the sky from a dark location, away from big city lights.

"For keen and enthusiastic observers, the radiant of the shower will be up above the horizon from about 03:00 to 04:00. It is always best to view meteor showers from a dark location far from city lights, and is best on moonless nights," said Olivier.


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