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Take In a Shower, Take Tips From a Telescope

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No wait, it's a trail of burning vapor from debris breaking up in the Earth's atmosphere!

Amateur astronomers take note: the annual Leonid Meteor Shower returns this weekend, and the show promises to be brief but spectacular.

The Leonids arrive every November as the Earth passes through Comet Temple-Tuttle's debris cloud. As fragments of rock heat up and disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere, paths of burning vapor streak across the sky. The result: a swath of bright yellow shooting stars. From 11:45 p.m. Saturday to 1:30 a.m. Sunday, NASA estimates that about 100 meteors will pass through the sky each hour.

The best view is from an area far from city lights. Lie on a blanket and look straight up. To capture the streaks on camera, you should use the widest angle and aperture setting possible, and set the time exposure for at least five minutes.

Though the Leonids enter Earth's atmosphere near the constellation Leo, you can see them throughout the sky. And if you find yourself thinking "Just where the heck is Leo?" the Brookstone SkyScout Personal Planetarium will point you in the right direction. For amateur-astronomers, the device is a must-have: point it at any object in the sky and the GPS-enabled telescope tells you (on a side screen) exactly what you’re looking at. Even in light-polluted areas like Washington, D.C., the SkyScout quickly identified constellations, satellites and stars. You can also plug in the constellation you'd like to find; an arrow on the viewfinder points you to the correct spot.

Melody Joy Kramer is spending a year at NPR as part of the Joan B. Kroc Fellowship program. She is a Leo.

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Melody Joy Kramer