This morning I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. , in hopes of catching one of the greatest spectacles of the night sky: the November Leonid meteor showers.
Named for the constellation Leo, the Leonids peak every 33 years, (2001 being the last peak) and at their most spectacular pour hundreds of meteors per hour across the pre-dawn sky. No such luck for me this morning: there may have been meteors falling like rain, but I couldn't see a single one. The sky over my house was obscured by thick clouds. Rats.
If, like me, your attempts to catch a cosmic light show were thwarted by weather, or if (also like me) you're just a space geek in general, I've got a little consolation prize for you: some really out-of-this-world (Ouch. Forgive me.) websites.
Want to be a space cadet? The Hubble Galaxy Zoo needs help classifying the overwhelming numbers of possible galaxies photographed by the Hubble telescope. Here's how the website describes the project: "To understand how these galaxies, and our own, formed we need your help to classify them according to their shapes — a task at which your brain is better than even the most advanced computer. If you're quick, you may even be the first person in history to see each of the galaxies you're asked to classify." So you would look at a picture like this:
and classify it as smooth and round, cigar shaped, or a disk. This particular one is a disk, by the way.
The WorldWide Telescope is another amazing, interactive site that essentially turns your computer into a giant telescope. Explore the universe on your own, or take narrated guided tours to some of the most mind-blowing spots in the cosmos.
The NASA website and the Goddard Library website are both just chock full of resources, links, and interactive explorations for all ages - the NASA site in particular has tons of content for kids. If you are an educator looking for classroom resources or you have budding Space Campers at home, then the NASA site is a must-see.
The National Air & Space Museum and the The Space Telescope Science Institute are definitely worth your time as well.
Want to wallpaper your house with space images? Photographic Libraries offers a whole page of links to image sources.
But for one of my favorite all-around space explorer sites, we'll return to Hubble. The Hubble site, for me, is like a black hole: I could just get sucked in and lost, there's so much to explore here. The galleries are breathtaking, and many of the images are available to download as computer wallpaper. (Yes! Fly that Space Dork flag with pride, my friends!) Here's a little video called Revelations: 15 years of Hubble.
On the Hubble site you can also subscribe to a Night Sky podcast that will tell you what to look for each month. I'll give you a little heads up: try again tonight for the Leonids, and maybe, in the hours between midnight and dawn, you'll see more falling stars than you could ever wish on. If not, the next display is coming up next month, when the Geminid Meteor shower is due December 13 and 14. Considered one of the most reliable cosmic meteor events, the Geminids feature an unusual number of colored meteors: 65% white, 26% yellow, and 9% red, green, or blue. Can't wait.
That's it for today, stargazers: may the force be with you.