Bright Meteors and A Red Moon Will Face Off This Week
Two reasons to check the night skies this week - the Leonid meteor shower and a nearly-full lunar eclipse - both visible in western Montana. Actually, the events seem to be competing for attention, with the full moon washing out the smaller meteor trails and the Earth's shadow dimming the moon for over three hours after midnight into Friday morning. If you're an insomniac, this is your week.
The annual Leonid meteor shower is created by a debris path left across Earth's orbit by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. NASA says these little bits of rock move along at a speed of 44 miles per second, making many of them pretty bright as they hit the Earth's atmosphere. However, there aren't that many - maybe 20 an hour. And, again, the bright Moon will have an effect. The Leonids are active throughout the month of November, but the peak is expected Wednesday morning, November 17, according to NASA. For best viewing, check the sky in the hours before dawn.
Friday is the Full Moon, but the Earth gets in the way that morning, passing between the Sun and the Moon. You'll notice the partial lunar eclipse at about 12:30 a.m. MST Friday morning and the moon will get redder and redder as it passes into Earth's shadow. Then after 2 a.m., it will slowly brighten, with the whole thing taking hours. It's one of the longest lunar eclipses in years, according to the experts.
The nice thing about both of these little shows is that you don't need a telescope or binoculars to enjoy the sights - just dress warmly here in Montana. By the way, the next lunar eclipse will be May 16th next year.