Space Junk to Rain on World Tonight, Make Pretty Lights



Space Junk to Rain on World Tonight, Make Pretty Lights

Photo of star trails (not meteors), by xbeta, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The annual Leonid meteor shower will peak in intensity tonight and tomorrow night. This year’s show promises to be an exceptionally spectacular one, by recent standards—but only for those who know how to hide from Toronto’s countless jiggawatts of light pollution. Do you know where in the GTA to go in order to ensure that your night of neck-craning is not spent in vain? Torontoist does.

Leonid meteors are actually tiny bits of debris shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which zooms, periodically, through the Earth’s orbital path. This year, according to NASA, the Earth is passing through two independent trails of cosmic dust laid down by the comet in 1466 and 1533, respectively. The multiple debris trails mean the sky will be full of potential meteors. Also, tonight will be a new moon, meaning visibility interference from lunar light will be minimal. Asia is expected to be this year’s prime Leonid viewing location, but experts estimate that meteor watchers in Canada can still expect anywhere from twenty to thirty sightings per hour, under ideal conditions.
Those ideal conditions are, unfortunately, difficult to come by in Toronto, where light from the downtown area easily overwhelms all but the brightest astronomical phenomena. For tips on Leonid spotting in the GTA, we asked Guy Nason, observational activities coordinator for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre chapter.
Nason recommends that would-be meteor watchers leave the city entirely, if possible. RASC has two favourite viewing sites: Forks of the Credit Provincial Park (about an hour northwest of the city by car), and Long Sault Conservation Area (about an hour and fifteen minutes northeast of the city, also by car). The group will be spending this year’s shower at Long Sault, and welcomes any members of the public who might be seeking company during the night.
For those who can’t travel beyond the TTC’s lines (or would rather not), Nason thinks the safest bet will be the Scarborough lakeshore. East is good, because the Leonids emanate from the southeastern sky, meaning trying to view them from anywhere in the west end will entail gazing back through downtown light pollution.
Nason also advises neophyte meteor watchers to dress warmly and bring inflatable mattresses or chaise longues to recline on. “No booze, though!” he writes. “Besides violating the park regulations, the consumption of alcohol will impair your night vision and make you sleepy—two things that are almost guaranteed to make you miss the show.” Take that as you will.