HELENA -- Like to wish on shooting stars? You might be able to make as many as 20 wishes an hour during the peak hours of the annual Leonid meteor shower early Saturday morning, according to some experts.
The best time to see the meteors will be between midnight and dawn Saturday, said Kelly Cline, a mathematics and astronomy professor at Carroll College.
But there is no way of knowing how many meteors people will actually be able to see. Experts’ estimates have ranged from five to 20 meteors per hour during the peak of the shower.
“These do vary year to year,” Cline said. “That’s what’s part of the fun – they are completely unpredictable. If you were to stand outside in the cold for an hour, it’s reasonable to estimate you might see between five and 10.”
Each year in mid November, the Leonid meteor shower happens when the earth crashes through debris left by a passing comet – a “big, dirty snowball” flying through space, Cline said.
As the bits of debris – dust, sand and pebbles – fall through Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up and streak across the sky, causing what are commonly called shooting stars.
The comet that left the debris that causes the Leonids is called Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, said Ashley Oliverio, an officer in the Helena Astronomical Society.
The Leonids get their name from the constellation Leo, the lion, which the meteors often seem to emanate from, Oliverio said.
The darker it is, the easier it will be to see the meteors, but folks don’t need binoculars or a telescope to see them, she said.
Places away from city lights often are the best viewing locations.
“My biggest piece of advice is dress warmly,” Cline said. “Look up. Enjoy the sky. Enjoy seeing the stars.”