Last Saturday evening, Yolo County emergency crews received calls from residents stating that a fireball had fallen from the sky.
Emergency crews searched for the remnants of a plane crash, but the “fireball” was actually a meteor hailing from the annual Leonid meteor shower.
Every 33 years, the Leonid meteor shower experiences a meteor storm in which several hundred meteors illuminate the sky each hour. This year, the shower is expected to peak between 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 17, according to Dr. Patricia Boeshaar, senior lecturer in the UC Davis physics department.
“NASA scientists said there will be a burst of 10 to 30 meteors per hour in Leonid this year,” Boeshaar said.
The main burst of 500 meteors per hour is predicted to occur in Asia when it is daylight in the United States. However, stargazers everywhere are encouraged to glue their eyes to the night sky the morning of Nov. 17.
This year, the moon will not interfere with viewing the Leonids, because it is in the new moon phase, Boeshaar said. The only interference is inclement weather, since cloudy weather can distort the clarity of the meteors.
The Leonid meteor shower is named after the constellation Leo, visible late at night in the east, where the meteors emanate from.
“Meteors are particles about the size of a grain of sand traveling 150,000 miles per hour, burning up 60 miles above us, producing big streaks as they vaporize,” Boeshaar said.
Davis boasts many excellent star gazing grounds. For best visibility, stargazers should move as far away from city lights, or light pollution, as possible. West Davis is a particularly dark area, which would provide optimal viewing.
There is no need to bring telescopes or binoculars, said Vinita Domier, a member of the Davis Astronomy Club.
The Astronomy Club at UC Davis is hosting a viewing party on the roof of the Physics Building beginning at midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Dulce Gonzalez, junior animal science major and president of the Astronomy Club at UCD, said all are welcome to attend.
“Bring a lawn chair, a blanket and look east,” recommended Boeshaar.
THERESA MONGELLUZZO can be reached at email@example.com.