Thanksgiving in the USA is accompanied by a young Moon, a few days into the lunar cycle and the new lunar month. I enjoy the changing face of our nearest neighbor in the Solar System, a lovely sight early in its cycle. This week we'll see the Moon pass near Mars and then wander through the faint constellation Capricorn, en route to encounters with Neptune and Uranus. The San Francisco Bay Area is being graced with clear, crisp November nights so when the Sun sets after your Thanksgiving dinner, step outside and enjoy the view to the west, and a few hours later you'll also see the spectacular bright stars and constellations of winter rising in the east.
I enjoy the annual Leonids meteor shower for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is my birthday meteor shower, peaking on my birthday each year. The peak of the Leonids comes on the evening of November 17 into the early morning hours of November 18, and this year the Moon is a thin waning crescent in the early morning and won't disrupt the viewing of meteors. So, get a warm blanket and a clear view of the sky and enjoy this annual shower that promises
Like all meteor showers, they are caused by a remnant of a celestial object, most often a comet or asteroid that leaves a wake of particles that intercept the Earth's atmosphere on a predictable annual basis. The Leonids are caused by Comet Temple-Tuttle that orbits the Sun every 33 years. The debris stream from Temple-Tuttle is littered with sand-like particles that glow and shine in the upper atmosphere when they strike it at thousands of miles per hour, creating the beautiful 'shower' of light. Under dark skies you can see 10-20 Leonids per hour, so set your expectations appropriately and be patient. You can't hurry a meteor shower - let it come to you and present itself in all its splendor. This year Jupiter adds to the mix, now in a location near the center of Leo and therefore near the 'radiant' of the shower. Here's to clear skies and good viewing.
Here are more detailed write-ups. I found the Sky & Telescope article to be quite informative.
Mornings are splendid this time of year, with plenty of darkness to make it easy to see the sky when you first get up, and so much to look at right now. Jupiter shines brightly high in the eastern and southern sky before sunrise, and all of the magnificent winter constellations dominate the sky to the south and above, glimmering in the quiet of the early morning. I savor the moments when I am up early and have a few minutes to take in the spectacle, starting my day on a good note.
Over the coming week, the waning Moon graces the southern and eastern skies and passes near Jupiter on the 14th.
In 2005 I began writing a column for the San Francisco Waldorf School newsletter called "The Urban Astronomer." I started this blog in 2007 as a place to archive my articles and to offer additional insights on the night sky - even if you live in a big city. In 2008 I became an occasional guest on the KFOG Morning Show, and more recently on KALW and KGO. Archived shows are posted on the blog.