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Meteor Showers Above Oregon / Washington Coast Storms This Week

Published 11/15/20 at 6:25 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Meteor Showers Above Oregon / Washington Coast Storms This Week

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(Portland, Oregon) – It may well be a moot point as little to no breaks in the stormy cloud cover are expected along the Washington or Oregon coast this week. Yet something of nearly galactic significance is happening above us: the Leonid meteor showers. Something like 20 meteors per hour are expected in and around the peak night, which means now through maybe the 18th or so.

According to Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland’s OMSI, they’re happening right now with the peak occurring on the 17th – on Tuesday.

“If you want to enjoy the 2020 Leonid meteor shower, go out in the hours between midnight and sunrise are best for bright meteors,” Todd said. “Fortunately, this year, the waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, providing dark skies for the Leonids.”

Unfortunately, of course, it’s a stormy time for the rest of the week, although your chances of seeing some cloud breaks may be improved in some inland areas of Washington and Oregon.

The Leonids come from the cosmic debris left over by Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, caused by the fact our planet drifts through the debris field from November 7 to the 30th. On the 17th it passes through the densest part of the train of ice and dust. Todd said this leaves Tuesday and Wednesday morning as the best times to spot them. The radiant (or apparent center) of the shower will be in Leo, which is high in the eastern sky.

“According to the American Meteor Society, the Leonids are best known for producing meteor storms in the years of 1833, 1866, 1966, 1999, and 2001,” Todd said. “These outbursts of meteor activity are best seen when the parent object, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, is near perihelion (closest approach to the sun).”

However, what we’re seeing is not the freshest material from the comet, but rather debris from earlier flyby’s.

“Unfortunately it appears that the earth will not encounter any dense clouds of debris until 2099,” Todd said. “Therefore when the comet returns in 2031 and 2064, there will be no meteor storms, but perhaps several good displays of Leonid activity when rates are in excess of 100 per hour.”

Todd said the best we here on Terra Firma can hope for is around 15 streaks per hour, at least until about 2030. Still, Todd said the Leonids are often quite bright and coming with a high percentage of long trails.

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Meteor shower photo courtesy NASA

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