A bit of excitement this evening: the Leonid meteor shower is at its peak with regard to the year tonight and this is expected to be rather a peak year with regard to at least the next thirty, possibly the next hundred. Furthermore, the sky is apparently the clearest it has been on a peak night for years, according to my parents who regularly go looking for the Leonids and Perseids a couple of times a year. It's rather cloudier to the west, but unoccluded to the east.
The Dickson family got wrapped up warm (not too different to a family of Bibenda) and went out in the car to the local dark, clear place - about four miles south of where we are and six miles south of the centre of Middlesbrough, so the light pollution isn't too bad. We looked for about 45 minutes or so; I saw one dramatic, definite meteor - that is, one which was brighter than everything else in the sky except the moon and appeared to travel possibly 10 degrees through my field of vision, taking perhaps three-quarters of a second to do so. I also saw four possible ones which were much less bright and didn't travel anything like as far. They were probably indistinguishable from peripheral vision tricks brought on by the darkness. Unfortunately, my parents didn't see the big one and returned home disappointed. (Not too disappointed, though - we made a detour down Linthorpe Road to the studentier parts of Middlesbrough and picked up a box of hot chips. Evidently the kebab shops stay open until at least 2am even on a dull Monday termtime night in studentland. Midnight feasts are always fun.)
Peak activity is expected at 4:03 am GMT, or about an hou's time, so we're going to strike out again a bit later, possibly heading north to the station end of the Castle Eden Walkway (a former disused railway) where the local astronomers hang out in order to have another look. If there's anyone else in Europe who's reading this and still awake, the next 2-3 hours are basically expected to be particularly good. Start looking now! For those who are in North America, a secondary peak is expected at about 5:30am Evil / 2:30am Pacific.
The BBC offers some top tips to would-be stargazers. Look ENE, a bit to the left of the planet Jupiter, probably roughly at the same level of elevation, then wait, wait and wait and wait some more. The full moon will make things harder to see, but we should still be able to see several meteors per minute, with good luck and a following wind. The meteors will tend to appear to come from the middle of the constellation Leo, hence the name, but if you're interested enough in stargazing to be able to identify the stars which make up Leo then you probably know all about the meteor shower already.
Good luck and happy gazing!