Not really a falling star, but here’s how to ‘catch’ it

Fall skies offer observers in the Northwest two chances to see meteor showers, providing that the weather cooperates.

Both the Leonid (peaking Nov. 17-18) and Geminid (peaking Dec. 13-14) meteor showers are capable of spectacular meteor “storms,” but the moon may stunt their effect this year.

Leonids are particles from the comet Swift-Tuttle and the Geminids are dust from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Both orbit the sun and swing past Earth at regular intervals.

“Ideally, get away from bright city lights,” said Richard Just of the Whatcom Association of Celestial Observers, an astronomy group. “But you can observe from your back yard, unless you’re in the city.”

To see meteors, Just recommends that viewers sit in a lawn chair with their feet oriented toward the direction that the meteors originate from. “That way, you can pretty much see all of the sky,” he said.

Leonids appear to come from the constellation Leo and Geminids from the constellation Gemini. Check a star chart for their location, but both are generally in the southern sky.

For comfort, viewers can use a waterproof tarp on the ground and a blanket or sleeping bag. It’s helpful to have a flashlight with a red lens or red cellophane cover to preserve night vision.

“It can take up to half an hour for your eyes to adjust,” Just said. In the darker areas, you’re more likely to see more (meteors). Their colors can vary and the trails can be fast or slow.”

For more information about astronomical phenomena, go online to stardate.com, earthsky.org, timeanddate.com and whatcomastronomy.org.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @bhamMitty