Leonid meteor shower streaks northern sky

Twice this week I have seen something strange in the southern sky. Sunday and Tuesday nights, traveling west to east there was a bright green light streaking across the sky, then fading out. It was definitely not a falling star and thankfully I was not the only one who saw it. So, yes, it was real. Do you have any idea what it could have been?

— Essiejay F., via e-mail

Rest assured you're not nuts. In fact, if our Since You Asked mail is any indicator, lots of folks spotted strange green objects darting across our night skies this week.

Since y'all insist it wasn't a shooting star, do you think perhaps it was a bird, a plane, a Super... Nah. Actually, what we're seeing is a display from the Leonid meteor shower.

According to the Web site Stardate.org, you can call them "shooting stars" or "falling stars." Both are names that people have used for many hundreds of years to describe meteors — those tiny bits of space rock and debris that flash across the sky with an intense streak of light as they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Why the names? Because when a meteor appears, it seems to "shoot" quickly across the sky, and its small size and intense brightness might make you think it's a star. If you're lucky enough to spot a meteorite (a meteor that reaches the ground), and see where it hits, it's easy to think you just saw a star "fall."

Meteor showers are named for the constellation from which meteors appear to originate, a spot in the sky astronomers call the "radiant." For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is located in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.

An increase in the number of meteors at a particular time of year is called a meteor shower. According to the experts, we are watching a Leonid shower right now.

How can you best view a meteor shower? If you live near a brightly lit city, drive away from the glow of city lights and toward the constellation from which the meteors appear to radiate. For example, drive north to view the Leonids. Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises.

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