By Mike Lynch
When most folks think of stargazing they think of going out after dinner, taking in the stars, finding constellations, and maybe poking a telescope at something celestial.
But stargazing is also a wonderful way to start your day. With a nice big cup of coffee or hot cocoa The time before morning twilight can be really enjoyable.
In fact the next few weeks the Everett morning sky will be a better show than the evening. The wonderful winter constellations dominate most of the southern half the sky from about midnight on. As it draws closer to morning twilight the bright constellation Orion the Hunter and his surrounding gang of constellations shift over to the southwest heavens.
These constellations, such as Orion, Taurus and Gemini, are the best of the year in this stargazer’s opinion. Nestled in those bright winter constellations is the very bright planet Jupiter nearing its closest approach to Earth in 2012.
You may see a few more meteors or “shooting stars” than normal while you’re morning stargazing this week because the annual Leonid meteor shower is building and will peak out next weekend. The Leonids are not the best meteor shower of the year, but there’s no moonlight in the early morning hours leaving for a much darker backdrop in the sky for catching those “falling stars.”
They’re called the Leonids because the meteors seem to emanate from the general direction in the sky where the constellation where Leo the Lion is poised. After midnight Leo is hanging in the eastern sky and looks a backward question mark. That makes Leo the radiant of this meteor shower.
That doesn’t mean that you should restrict your meteor hunting to just that area of the heavens. If you do you’ll miss many of them because he meteors can show up anywhere in the sky. Your know they’re part of the Leonids because their “tails” seem to point back in the general direction of Leo the Lion.
The best way to watch for the Leonids or any other meteor shower is to lie back on a lawn chair with blankets sometime after midnight, preferably after 2 or 3 a.m., roll your eyes all around the night sky and see how many meteors you spot in a given hour. It’s a fun group or family activity because you can keep each other awake and have multiple eyes all around the heavens, have a great time and keep each other a wake.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores. Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org.