Blinded by the Light
In the dark before dawn Friday, countless pieces of cosmic debris bombard the earth as it passes through the path left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. As these bits of ice and dust collide against the planet’s atmosphere, they burst aflame. While none of these threaten the planet, few of them will be visible against the light of the first-quarter moon, which coincides with the peak of this year’s Leonid meteor shower.
Under dark skies, the Leonids typically deliver 10 to 15 visible meteors each hour between midnight and dawn. The meteors appear to originate from the mane of Leo the lion, which is close to the moon through the weekend. As a result, anything bright enough to stand out against the moon’s glare will put on a good show as it streaks across the sky’s dome.
While the moon puts a damper on the Leonids, it will guide you to Mars this weekend. The red planet resides in the constellation Leo and is less than five degrees from the blue-white star Regulus, the heart of the lion. Of the two, Mars is slightly brighter, and it shines steady light as opposed to the star’s twinkle. Both rise shortly after midnight, and by daybreak, before 7:00 this week, they are high in the south
Saturn rises shortly before dawn and each day climbs a little higher before sunrise. Look for the star Spica just a few degrees below the ringed planet. Tuesday morning, they are joined by the thin crescent moon, which forms a line beneath the two low in the east.
As the sun sets this week before 4:50, Venus appears low in the southwest. Brighter than any planet or star, Venus is gaining ground in our night skies and is now visible for almost 90 minutes.
Sunset reveals Jupiter directly above the east horizon. Second only to Venus, Jupiter blazes through much of the night, setting around 5am.