Viewing Conditions: New England Prime for Leonid Shower, Comet ISON

By by Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
November 18, 2013, 6:14:36 AM EST

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The Leonid meteor shower, which began in early November, is at its peak, though it may be tough to see due to another celestial display.

As the shower hits its peak this weekend, the moon will near its full phase, making the sky particularly bright.

"This will be a major obstacle to viewing this sometimes brilliant meteor shower," Astronomy Expert Mark Paquette said.

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Despite the moonlight, the meteors will pick up steam after midnight and display the greatest numbers just before dawn on the 17th and 18th.

The best locations for viewing the show in the United States will be in the Northeast and across the Southwest.


Likewise, comet ISON will be more visible than usual on Sunday.

The comet has undergone significant brightening in the last few days and is now visible with the naked eye under dark skies in the hour or two before sunrise.

"Photos have been taken of [the comet] with a digital camera with an 85 mm lens. This brightening phase could just be temporary, or could be part of a longer trend," stated Paquette.

The comet is on its first trip close to the sun, but could disintegrate during that trip. Due to its potential destruction, the ideal time to view the comet is this weekend.

"If the comet survives the trip, it has the potential to possibly become quite a sight in the weeks after Thanksgiving, as it moves away from the sun, and comes closest to earth on Dec. 26," Paquette continued.

To view the comet, locate Mars and the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, in the eastern sky about 1.5 hours before sunrise. The comet will be below Mars and above Spica on Sunday morning, then below Spica during the mornings of Monday and Tuesday.

"Using binoculars or a camera zoom lens will help you to more positively identify the comet," stated Paquette. Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski contributed to the content of this story.

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