Viewing Conditions for Tonight's Meteor Shower

By , Senior Meteorologist
November 16, 2012; 8:49 AM ET
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The United States will be treated to a meteor shower tonight, unless the weather steals the show.

The Leonid meteor shower peaks before dawn on Saturday as the Earth passes through debris left behind by the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.

The moon, which will be transitioning to its "First Quarter" phase, will not interfere with sky gazers tonight. The same cannot be said for the weather across parts of the United States.

Clouds threaten to prevent anyone from central and northern Florida to the eastern Carolinas from seeing the meteor shower.

A pair of Pacific storm systems will also send clouds streaming across the West and Rockies with some clouds spilling over the Dakotas.

See Also:
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Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week
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High pressure will provide the best viewing conditions across the United States from the Northeast to Oklahoma and the central Gulf Coast. Clouds will make southern Texas the exception.

Most of those who will enjoy the best viewing conditions will have to bundle up. Temperatures tonight will drop into the 20s throughout the Northeast, west of Interstate 95, and the upper Great Lakes.

Lows in the 30s are expected elsewhere across the Northeast and Midwest and points southwestward to central Texas.

Away from the contiguous United States, clear skies will dominate most of Alaska tonight as partly to mostly cloudy skies are in store for Hawaii.

The show tonight will pale in comparison to the Leonid meteor showers from 1998 to 2002 when the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle was in close proximity to the Earth and dramatically enhanced the number of meteors racing into the Earth's atmosphere.

Space.com reports that the rate of Leonid meteors those years ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand meteors per hour.

The estimate for tonight is around 10 meteors per hour with the comet currently near the orbit of Uranus.

The Leonid meteor shower received its name since it appears as if the meteors, racing through the sky at roughly 45 miles per second, are originating from the constellation Leo.

To find Leo during the predawn of Saturday, AccuWeather.com Astronomy Blogger Mark Paquette suggests you look straight up after first facing east.

If your plans or the weather prevents you from viewing tonight's astronomy show, you will have a second chance during the early morning hours of Tuesday, Nov. 20, when the Leonid meteor shower peaks for a second time.

Such a second peak is quite rare, but possible as the Earth passes through a second debris field left by the comet in the year 1400.

The rate of meteors per hour may increase to 15 that morning, according to Space.com.

Thumbnail image provided by Photos.com.

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