Weather might dampen Leonid meteor-watching prospects

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      Nature might be conspiring to impair sky watchers' chances of spotting streaking meteors this weekend, but a keen eye for breaks in the weather could lead to astronomical rewards.

      The annual Leonid meteor shower, which peaks in the evening and predawn hours this Sunday (November 17), is usually one of the better yearly displays of celestial fireworks.

      Historically, the Leonids have provided some of the most dazzling instances of sky pyrotechnics, with a famous 1833 meteor storm delivering as many as 100,000 meteors per hour over North America. The meteors are the result of the Earth moving through the trail of dust and debris left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 33 years.

      The 1997 Leonids as seen from space.

      More realistically, the Leonids deliver as many as 15 to 18 meteors per hour during their off-peak years, but the ones that are visible tend to include a higher percentage of coloured streaks and fireballs, especially when the meteors' radiant point is at its highest in the night sky.

      In Vancouver, unfortunately, the long-term forecast for Sunday indicates overcast skies, so meteor chasers should sit tight and wait for any breaks in the cloud cover between 11 p.m. or so and about 6 a.m. Monday morning. The moon's brightness will be a further roadblock to perfect viewing even if there is clearing, but the sheer number of meteors means that viewers would still see several per hour.

      So it's probably not a good idea to stay up all night hoping for the weather gods to cooperate, but if you are a dawn riser anyway, maybe set your alarm a little earlier than normal just to check sky conditions.

      It could be worthwhile.