Sunday, November 18, 2012

Science News Sunday: Leonid Meteor Showers Peak This Weekend, News of Mars, Wandering Planet, Exploring Moon Caves and More

All meteor trails point back to a spot in the sky astronomers call the radiant. For the Leonid meteor shower, this point lies near Leo the Lion's head. The radiant, however, drifts from night to night because Earth's position is changing as our planet orbits the Sun. // Astronomy: Roen Kelly

Get ready for the Leonid meteor shower

This year’s show occurs under prime conditions November 17.

They’re back! After exceptional displays in recent years, the Leonid meteor shower will appear under dark skies in 2012. Yet no one knows for sure what the shower has in store for us. Estimates range from a few meteors up to dozens of meteors per hour at the peak.

Predicting meteor rates, particularly for the highly variable Leonid shower, is akin to estimating the number of snowflakes that will fall on an area of ground. You simply can’t know until it’s all over. And in the case of this event, you’ll know only if you’re outside observing.

The remarkable activity that observers witnessed during 1999 (a rain of fireballs [meteors bright enough to cast a shadow]) and 2000 (more than 1,000 meteors per hour for a brief period) came about because the shower’s parent comet, 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, had passed through the inner solar system in 1998.

This year, predictions are more modest, but spikes in activity can occur at any time. The shower’s peak occurs across North America before dawn November 17. The Moon reaches First Quarter on the 20th, so it will only interfere if you observe before moonset, around 10 p.m. local time. Even then, bright Leonids should shine through nicely.


         Links to Space and Science News

Amazing Leonid meteor shower photos captured by stargazers
Great photos of Leonid Meteors.

Evidence indicates astronauts could survive on Mars
Radiation levels at the Martian surface appear to be roughly similar to those experienced by astronauts in low-Earth orbit, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has found.

Homeless Planet Found Wandering Near Earth’s Solar System
It’s cold and young and massive. And they call it the wanderer.
Astronomers recently discovered a new planet, named CFBDSIR2149, that is the closest planetary body to our solar system. It is also the first convincing evidence of an accepted but yet unsubstantiated theory of roaming planets.

Farthest Known Galaxy in the Universe Discovered
A new celestial wonder has stolen the title of most distant object ever seen in the universe, astronomers report.  The new record holder is the galaxy MACS0647-JD, which is about 13.3 billion light-years away.

Mars Once Had Warm Water, Study Reveals
New research on Martian meteorites shows evidence that water sufficiently warm enough to support life once existed on Mars.

Roaming robot may explore mysterious Moon caverns
Spelunking rover could scout sites for lunar bases.


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