Weekend “Beaver” Moon to dull Leonid meteor shower; comet ISON emerging?

November 15, 2013

The waxing moon looms above the Washington Monument on November 14 (Kevin Wolf via Flickr)

This weekend the moon is full, there’s a meteor shower, and a spectacular comet may be visible to the naked eye. But clouds may challenge viewing, depending on your location.

The moon

“Beaver” is the common name for this month’s full moon, which occurs Sunday.

“[T]he name can be traced to the activity of these industrious rodents, which are working hard to gather food and fix their dens for the upcoming winter,” writes Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

The moon is also sometimes referred to as the “frosty” moon, given the time of year.

In Washington, D.C., it will appear mostly full both Saturday and Sunday nights, reaching official fullness Sunday morning at 10:16 a.m., when it is not visible.

Moonrises on Saturday and Sunday evening occur at 4:27 and 5:08 p.m. and moonsets Saturday and Sunday mornings occur at 5:47 and 6:45 a.m.

Leonid meteor shower

This meteor shower peaks between Saturday evening and Monday morning. Unfortunately, the nearly full moon will make viewing the shower difficult. EarthSky says to expect about 10 to 15 shooting stars per hour, but the actual number you can spot, given the moon’s brightness, may well be lower.

If you want to give it a go, NASA says the best time to view the shower is after midnight. EarthSky recommends getting out of town:

…the best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country. Just go far enough from town that glittering stars, the same stars drowned by city lights, begin to pop into view.

City, state and national parks are often great places to watch meteor showers.

Comet ISON

The much-anticipated comet ISON underwent an abrupt brightening on November 14, and now is viewable to the naked eye in some circumstances. Writes NASA in its latest ISON status update:

Comet ISON’s brightness appears to be around two orders of magnitude brighter now, with reports of visual magnitude in the region of +5 to +6. For those with very dark skies, this now makes it a naked eye object, and even for those in urban environments it is readily visible as a fuzzy green blob about half an hour before sunrise in the south eastern skies.

Binoculars and, particularly, telescopes provide a better, clearer view. Check out this telescope photograph posted to SpaceWeather.com by Jerry Lodriguss of Atsion, New Jersey:


Comet ISON on November 15, 2013 from Atsion, New Jersey (Jerry Lodriguss via SpaceWeather.com)

The comet’s fate is highly uncertain: its sudden outburst may mean its days are numbered or that it will become even brighter in the coming days says SpaceWeather.com:

This could be the comet’s death throes–or just the first of many brightening events the comet experiences as it plunges toward the sun for a close encounter on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28th).

We will have more on this comet next week.

Sky conditions

Unfortunately, viewing of these night sky spectacles may be compromised by cloud cover in many parts of the U.S. The GFS model simulation of cloud cover (below) shows all but the Southwest and northern New England with at least partial cloud cover on Saturday night. In the D.C. area, we may have some breaks in the clouds Saturday evening, but it’s a wait and see situation.


Cloud cover simulation of the GFS model on Saturday night (1 a.m. Sunday morning EST)(WeatherBell.com)
Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Wes Junker · November 15, 2013