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How to Watch the Leonid Meteor Shower in California

How to Watch the Leonid Meteor Shower in California

Here's everything you need to know about where and how to watch the Leonid meteor shower in California. Team


2 min read

November 16, 2023

As November brings its autumnal beauty, the night sky over California is set to host an extraordinary spectacle – the Leonid Meteor Shower. This annual celestial event, a yearly highlight for stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts alike, will present a stunning display from Nov. 3 through Dec. 2, 2023, with its peak performance this weekend, the early hours of November 18.

What Makes the 2023 Leonid Meteor Shower Special?

This year's Leonid Meteor Shower promises an especially impressive show. The timing is impeccable; with the first quarter moon not until Nov. 20, the nights leading up to and including Nov. 18 will be dark, offering optimal conditions for meteor spotting. On average, you can expect to see up to 15 meteors per hour, turning the sky into a canvas of fleeting, fiery streaks.

Best Time to Watch

The most opportune time to witness this celestial dance is in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 18. According to EarthSky, the peak is predicted at 5:33 UTC, or 9:33 p.m. PST, which translates to late night on Nov. 17 through to dawn on Nov. 18 for California viewers. The radiant point of the meteor shower, where meteors appear to originate, rises around midnight and is highest in the sky at dawn, making pre-dawn hours the prime viewing time.

Choosing Your Viewing Spot

To fully appreciate the Leonid's brilliance, it's crucial to find a location away from city lights. Light pollution significantly diminishes the visibility of meteors, so heading to a rural area with minimal artificial lighting will enhance your experience. NASA advises that it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, so patience is key. Use a light pollution map to find the nearest dark sky sanctuary near you.

Joshua Tree National Park: Renowned for its stark beauty and clear, dark skies, Joshua Tree is an ideal spot for watching the Leonids. The park offers numerous locations away from city lights, where the stars and meteors can shine brightly. Remember, it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so arrive early and be patient!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: As California's largest state park, Anza-Borrego offers a vast, open sky perfect for meteor watching. The park's remote location reduces light pollution significantly, making it a prime spot for catching the Leonids. Pack some warm clothing and a reclining chair for a comfortable viewing experience.

Mount Laguna: Situated in the Cleveland National Forest, Mount Laguna provides elevated vantage points for an unobstructed view of the night sky. Its higher altitude and distance from urban areas make it a superb location for observing the meteor shower.

Big Sur Coastline: Offering a different perspective, the coastline along Big Sur combines the serene beauty of the Pacific Ocean with a clear view of the heavens. The dark, open skies along this rugged coastline are perfect for a night under the stars.

Death Valley National Park: Known as one of the darkest places in the United States, Death Valley is an exceptional location for any astronomical event. With minimal light pollution and vast open spaces, the park is a stargazer's paradise, especially at spots like Dante's View and Harmony Borax Works.

Tips for Optimal Viewing

  • Dress warmly and bring blankets or a reclining chair for comfort.
  • Allow your eyes to adjust to the dark for about 30 minutes.
  • Avoid using your phone or any light sources as they can disrupt night vision.
  • If possible, join a local astronomy club or group viewing event for a guided experience.

For those interested in photography, the Leonid Meteor Shower provides an excellent opportunity for night sky photography. A tripod-mounted camera with a wide-angle lens, set to a long exposure, can capture the fleeting beauty of the meteors. Remember to turn off the flash and use a remote shutter or timer to avoid camera shake.

In summary, the 2023 Leonid Meteor Shower offers a not-to-be-missed astronomical event, especially visible in the clear, dark skies of rural California. Whether you're a seasoned stargazer or a curious observer, this celestial showcase promises a night of wonder and awe. So mark your calendars, pick your spot, and prepare to be mesmerized by one of nature's most spectacular displays.

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