Leonid meteor shower... Yawn, is it time yet?

The Leonid meteor shower gets underway at 3:30am

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    The Leonid meteor shower will get underway early Tuesday and is expected to produce between 20 - 30 meteors per hour in the US.
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Hold it, didn't we just get done with some meteor showers?

If you've got a feeling of Deja Vu all over again (H.T. Yogi Berra), it's because we had the Perseids meteor shower in August and the Orionids meteor shower in October. Early Tuesday morning, it's the Leonid meteor shower.

Those who aren't really enthusiasts of this type of thing might wonder if we really need another one. After all, on a warm summer evening or a chilly fall night, the idea of staying up late to watch a meteor shower sounds adventurous -- even romantic.

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You know, bring some hot chocolate, get a sleeping bag, and cuddle up with that special someone to watch the cosmic light show.

But, once the temperatures plunge below freezing, the romance -- to some -- loses its luster. Why set your alarm for 3:30 in the morning to see some gravel falling from the sky, when you could be in a nice warm bed?

To meteor shower enthusiasts, that type of attitude is heresy. Even if it's snowing you should stay up, they say.

Tonight, tonight, tonight

If you fall into the latter category, you've got a chance to prove your mettle tonight. Although, most of the US should be free from snow, it's going to be below freezing in many locations.

No matter say the diehards. It'll still be a good show. Despite NASA's prediction that you may only see 20 - 30 meteors per hour (unlike the 55 per hour during the Orionids), you'll get to see something pretty weird. It'll look like the Leonid "shooting stars" are splurting out from the planet Mars.

"This year, Mars happens to be passing by the Leonid radiant at the time of the shower. The Red Planet is almost twice as bright as a first magnitude star, so it makes an eye-catching companion for the Leonids," explained NASA's Dr. Tony Phillips.

Plus, the moon is in its new phase so there won't be any light to compete with.

Plan of attack

So, if you've made the choice to set the alarm and venture out into the cold to watch the Leonids, then go ahead and plan on a 3:30 awakening. That'll give you time to roll over and say forget it put some cocoa in the microwave and let your eyes get used to the darkness (they say plan on 15 minutes). At around 4 a.m. (Eastern Time), you should be enjoying the show.

But don't yell at NASA if you don't see a lot of action.

"We can predict when Earth will cross a debris stream with pretty good accuracy," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The intensity of the display is less certain, though, because we don't know how much debris is in each stream."

Oh yeah, if NASA is right, then you're getting a raw deal if you're watching from here in the US. Asia is the place for all the action.

Right before dawn in China and Indonesia, the Earth will pass through two streams of cosmic debris which means onlookers could see more than 300 meteors per hour.

See also:

Leonid meteor shower: When you should look skyward

Orionids meteor shower tonight

Watching you watch the Perseids meteor shower

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