Meteor Shower Tonight

The Leonid meteor shower of 2009 is set to peak tonight.

Sky-watchers in North America can expect to see up to 30 meteors hourly tonight as the annual Leonid meteor shower peaks in the wee hours of Tuesday, Nov. 17. Earth will cross the first meteor-producing stream on this date starting at around 1 a.m. PST, experts predict.

This shower, consisting of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, may not be as grand as the Perseids of this past summer (a recent year’s meteor is pictured above, in Joshua Tree National Park), but the show should still be worth watching.

And it’ll be unusual. “A remarkable feature of this year’s shower is that Leonids will appear to be shooting almost directly out of the planet Mars,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office on a NASA blog.

Your best vantage point is a remote, dark place. That means that, yes, you’d do well to pack up your warmest sleeping bag and camp out in the desert or mountains. In the past, Los Angeles Times staff members have recommended Joshua Tree National Park, Red Rock Canyon State Park and Mount Pinos.

Even if you’ve got a shorter leash tonight, try to take a short drive away from urban glow and toward the area from which the meteors seem to radiate, according to StarDate Online, an outreach website for the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory.

“For example, drive north to view the Leonids,” advises the website. “Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises.”