Leonid meteor shower times: When you should look skyward

In 2009, the Leonid meteor shower will strike between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Eastern time.

The Leonid meteor shower streaks over Joshua Tree during a spectacular display in 2001.
MCT 2007
The Leonid meteor shower will hit close to the constellation Leo, hence the name.

The Leonid meteor shower is back in town Tuesday morning. Every November, Earth gets a spritz of meteor light in the night sky. While Asia will get the best show this year, early birds in North America can enjoy a few dozen Leonid meteors per hour.

Thinking of getting up early? Americans, set your clocks to 3:30 a.m. East Coast time. The shower will run from then until about 5:30 a.m. However, no matter where you live, you may luck out and catch a stray meteor anytime between 1 a.m. and dawn.

"We're predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas and as many as 200 to 300 per hour over Asia," says Bill Cooke, from NASA's meteoroid environment office. "Our forecast is in good accord with independent theoretical work by other astronomers."

Getting a good seat will depend on the weather, but tonight's new moon ensures that its light will not obscure your view.

Space.com suggests that you "give your eyes 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Then give the show at least a half-hour. The hourly rates stated above typically come in bursts, with lulls that may test your patience. No special equipment is needed. Telescopes and binoculars are of no use because meteors move too quickly."

Tonight's performance should be a good one, but it will be nothing compared to the Leonid shower in 1833. While Earth often only brushes this cloud of space debris, in 1833 the planet practically passed right through it. Thousands of meteors lit the night sky all at once – perhaps 240,000 flared up before the night was over. Americans reportedly woke to find the sky on fire and many worried the world would end. Now, thankfully, we have NASA to give us a heads-up and plenty of time to make some hot cocoa.

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