Friday, January 27, 2006

November 4, 1999

Meteor alert! The annual Leonid shower returns on the night of November 17-18, and it just could be the display of a lifetime.

Since the Earth is now well positioned relative to Comet Tempel-Tuttle, whose debris constitute the "shooting stars" we see, some astronomers predict a maximum rate of 1000 meteors per hour.

Mars, the next planet out from the Earth, continues to shine in the west after sunset: Identify it by its reddish tint.

Beyond Mars lies giant Jupiter, which is currently the brightest object in the evening sky, save the Moon. You will find it rising in the east as darkness falls and crossing the sky all night.

Next in line is Saturn, the bright object to Jupiter's lower left. On the 22nd it sits midway between Jupiter and the full Moon.

Two striking star clusters lie to Saturn's lower left. Look for the fuzzy glow of the Pleiades and, below them, the Hyades' wedge (a "V" on its side, pointing right).

Venus, the next planet in from the Earth and the brightest "star" of all, dominates the pre-dawn sky as it rises in the east ahead of the Sun. Venus is nicely complemented by Jupiter, which by this hour is setting in the west.

Finally, the innermost planet, Mercury, puts on a rare show just before sunset on the 15th, when it passes directly in front of the Sun. However, to know exactly where and how to look and, most importantly, to protect your eyes from the Sun's glare, you must team up with an expert if you are going to attempt to watch this event. The Astronomical Society of New Haven is planning a special observing session to see it; for more information, contact the Society.

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