Archive for November 2009

Leonid Meteor Shower

November 9, 2009

As they orbit the sun, comets release particles of icy dust about the size of a grain of sand which ignite as the earth’s atmosphere passes through. Dust from comet Temple-Tuttle is responsible for the Leonid shower. This years shower results from the pass through a lane of dust which was left in 1466. It is the same lane which produced spectacular results in 1966.

Therefore the Leonid Meteor Shower is expected to be spectacular this year and is predicted to reach its maximum on the nights of November 17th & 18th. Because the new moon, when the nights are darkest, is on the 16th, those nights will be perfect for meteor watching.

Meteor shower intensity is measured by how many meteors the observer records per hour. If the count reaches 1000 per hour it is classified a meteor storm. The Leonids often reach over 100 per hour with recorded maximums as high as a rate of 40-50 per second on the morning of November 17, 1966.

“On Nov. 17, 2009, we expect the Leonids to produce upwards of 500 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. “That’s a very strong display.”

“We predict a sub-storm level outburst on Nov. 17, 2009, peaking sometime between 21:34 and 21:44 UT,” Cooke said. That favors observers in Asia, although Cooke won’t rule out a nice show over North America when darkness falls hours after the peak. “I hope so,” he said. “It’s a long way to Mongolia.”

Unfortunately, this peak occurs in the afternoon for those of us in central Texas, 3:34 – 3:44 pm CST. However, it still means there should be quite good meteor watching on both nights.

For information on where to look in the night sky and a very interesting discussion of the Leonids, read the following.