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Step outside late Friday to watch Leonid ‘shooting stars’

A meteor shows up against the aurora borealis near Homer, Alaska, in this 1998 photo. It was part of the Leonid meteor showers, which are impressive as Earth passes through the tail of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.
A meteor shows up against the aurora borealis near Homer, Alaska, in this 1998 photo. It was part of the Leonid meteor showers, which are impressive as Earth passes through the tail of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

Clouds shouldn’t be an issue for star gazers in the Boise area who are planning to stay up late Friday night to see the annual Leonid meteor shower, according to the National Weather Service.

“A lot of the cloud cover we’re seeing now is going to dissipate tonight,” said Dave Groenert, a lead forecaster at the Weather Service in Boise. “We’re expecting a mostly clear night.”

The Leonid meteor shower has provided some of the most intense storms in history, with the stars falling at rates as high as 50,000 mph, according to Space.com. But this year’s shower isn’t expected to be the fireworks show of years past.

Experts say the best time to look for the shooting stars will be around midnight Friday to 1 a.m. MT Saturday. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see them.

“Since the meteors can appear to zip across large tracts of the overhead sky, it’s best to lie down on a reclining lawn chair back-to-back with an observing buddy so that you can cover the entire sky as a team,” NationalGeorgraphic.com recommended in a story about the shower.

The Leonid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Leo. It happens every November, when Earth’s orbit crosses the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle (here’s a link to how comments cause meteor showers).

Joe Rao, a columnist for Space.com, says viewing this year won’t be hindered by the light of the moonlight because it’s a new moon.

“But don’t expect to see a lot of meteors,” he wrote. “In fact, a single observer will likely see no more than 10 to 15 of these meteors per hour emanating from the ‘sickle’ of Leo, the lion.”

Ten to 15 falling stars might sound like a lot. But in 2002, that number was close to 3,000 an hour, NationalGeorgraphic.com reported.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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