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LEONID Meteor Shower
November 17, 2001

How many meteors will we really see, and when?
Where do we have to go to see the Leonids?
What equipment do we need for observing?
For recording meteors, what should we record?
Where can we get more specialized information?
Leonids 2001 - November 17, 2001
Astro Geek's Leonids 2001 Report by Stephen LaFlamme
Leonids 2000
Leonids 1998 - Report by Brenda Culbertson.

Read Steven  LaFlamme's Report

AAAA Members from around the US View the Leonid Meteor Shower

Leonid Fireball - Photo copyright by Robert Reeves, San Antonio Astronomical Association

Leonid Meteor Burst, November 17, 1998, 
Robert Reeves, San Antonio, TX

The Leonid 2001 Count from Northern  India

382 Leonids between 3 a.m. & 4 a.m. local time. Three FB & 7 VBs during the period.

They were also accompanied by several Southern & Northern Taurids etc.

Location: Mt. Abu 24.44 N, 73.48 E INDIA. Height 5200 Feet (1500 Meters approx). Maybe the highest point between Kerala State (South India) and the mighty Himalayas.

I am an amateur astronomer from Ahmedabad, India. Been doing sky watching for some time.

Manoj Pai, Ahmedabad, India

Leo’s Roar Muffled 
by High Altitude Clouds

As I rose on Sunday morning to begin setup for our Leonids star party, I looked east toward the constellation Leo, and was not surprised to see the sky overcast. Although NASA’s predictions for the North East called for a spectacular show, it was at best mediocre. Several people arrived between 4:00 and  4:30 am and told of mass gatherings on the bridges in Waterville and Winslow. To those new at star gazing it was a spectacular show. My telescope mounted camera caught about 300 streaks in the 55 min. that I photographed. There were several very bright flashes and trails of burning cometary debris which lit up the early morning sky like lightning. In fact, the streetlight on the end of our street actually blinked out for a few minuets! Many people came together to witness this natural event, and it was interesting, at least to myself, at just how many people seemed to be interested in this event. I over heard several people explain what they had heard others say, and these statements ranged form precise to guesses. Much information on television concerning this shower had not been given very clearly. Many people came out to see the sky, but really had little notion of what they were watching. I was asked by more than one person what caused these showers?

These meteor showers are created when the Earth in its movement around the sun intercepts a “tube” of cometary tail of dust particles in space. As a comet travels around the Sun, it leaves behind a trail of dust. The Leonid meteor shower is the result of the Earth passing through the dust trail left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. Tempel-Tuttle orbits the Sun once every 33 years and last came by in February of 1998. Each time it passes close to the Sun it leaves a fresh trail of dust debris. We can see the Leonid meteor Shower every November.What made this years event so spectacular, was the absence of moonlight, which naturally brightens the sky. Over centuries the dust trail will disperse and become part of the general Leonid shower. However, close to the comet, the dust will naturally be denser than in the rest of the debris ring, which actually consists of multiple dust trails, one for each of the last several comet passages (this morning the Earth passed through several layers- the 1966 dust trail, 1933 dust trail, and the 1899 dust trail among others more scattered). Because the Earth intercepted an area of denser dust, a more intense meteor shower results. 

Other questions concerned the possible damage to the few planes we saw flying overhead. The very small size of the dust particles (about the size of a grain of rice on average, up to perhaps the size of a grape) stops them from getting very far into the Earth's atmosphere. When these small particles impact the Earth's atmosphere at such high velocities, about 43 miles per second, they create a ball of high-energy plasma that is anywhere from 3- 5 feet across. As the particle disintegrates, the plasma dissipates until nothing remains. The plasma ball is what causes the meteor streak that observers on the Earth see. Because of the small size of the particles, they will all burn up at very high altitudes and will not reach either airplane altitudes or the surface of the Earth. As we watched the skies, we could not help but notice several satellites passing by. 

These meteor storms do represent a very real threat to satellites. While no major damage to satellites has been reported as a result of the Leonids so far, many agencies that manage and control satellites are actively assessing the threat and taking appropriate actions when possible, such as moving them to the far side of the Earth, or turning the satellite in orbit so reveal the least amount of surface area. In closing, it was a great experience, not so much the shower, but seeing so many people rising on a Sunday morning before dawn to gaze skyward. People of different backgrounds coming together to witness nature at its most spectacular. 

However, if you slept in, you’re in luck! Next month, the “Gemenids” will be visible December 9-19. However, they will not be as plentiful as the Leonids, but given a clear sky, brighter.

Dr. W. Sumner Davis Member, 
American Association of Armature Astronomers; 
American Geophysical Union; 
The Planetary Society
Oakland, Maine 04963

God Smiled on Us

Topeka, KS: Weather conditions were really lousy all day and night. Until around 2:30 when we saw a hole in the clouds. We could see stars! The hole grew larger until the whole sky was clear. By 3 a.m., practically the whole sky was clear and we were watching meteors.

Meteors streaked all across the sky. Fireballs streaked, and burst, and left trails that lingered for several seconds to about a minute. Some trails may have lingered longer, but my attention was drawn away from
lingering trails to more meteors.

It started slow, but soon increased in intensity. By 3:30 the sky was swarming with meteors. By 4:00 the appearance of meteors radiating from Leo was so numerous, at one time I counted six showing up at the same instant. I needed about a dozen eyes to see them all.

Mike and Ariel were out, too. We all faced different directions, and many times we "oooooed" at the same time. The shower was intense, and I would venture to say we received "storm" level intensity. My estimate was for at least 500 meteors per hour seen at the most intense time from our location with moderate seeing.

If we had excellent conditions, I am sure we would have seen a much higher number of meteors.

(The fireballs were so numerous and intense, the neighbor's roosters began to crow and the coyotes began to howl.)


Brenda Culbertson, Washburn University, Topeka, KS

The Stars Fell on Alabama

Vincent, AL: Our alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. and I quickly went and made coffee.  By 2:45, Scott, Amanda and I were out watching a grand display!!  We were out  until 5:30 a.m. and during this time from what I could count there were some 350 plus ! I'm sure there were more, it was just hard to keep count! All kinds...short and fast, long, fireballs....it was totally awesome.  Our "ooo's" and "ahhhhh's" were many.  One fireball in particular went from west to the southeast.  It was bright orange, and it fragmented as it shot across the sky leaving the longest lingering trail that seemed to linger for about five minutes.  Some were bursting creating the most brilliant flash that most definately cause us to increase our volume of "oooooooo's" and ahhhhh's".  It was breathtaking to be outside in the midst of this beauty taking place.

I took pictures and hopefully there'll be some meteors in the shots.

Came in at 5:30 ... I could not feel my fingers nor my feet and just have recently got back up.

What a great night!!!!

Roseann Johnston, Vincent, AL

Colorado: My night started out great, BUT!!!!  The meteors started slow here. I didn't see many at all (disappointing) until about 2:00. Just when it started to get good it clouded up about 2:30. It got so cloudy I couldn't run a 10 min photo in the same spot. Then it it was completely overcast. I went back outside several times and no clearing. Finally gave up and went to bed at 3:30. I did get to take about two photos. SEE YA

Mark Cunningham, Craig, Colorado

Sweden: I was clouded out most of the time, and here in Goode Olde Europe we didn't get a big storm anyway (although I read some reports from Germany about amazing fireballs). But around midnight (23UT) I got to see some aurora and two or three Leonides. At the moment it's snowing, but I still haven't given up the hope to see something this evening. The weather can change quickly here. 

Katja Gott

Illinois: Got up at 3:00AM, had coffee, then headed out to see the much touted Leonid Storm. We saw about 40 an hour, not a storm but a good show. I attempted some pictures and will drop them off today to see if they turned out. We lasted until 6:00AM then came in for breakfast and a nap. Sue is already asleep on the couch :o)

Otto and Sue

Pennsylvania: It was clear up until midnight here in Pennsylvania and then the fog rolled in. All I saw in my night-vision monoculars were a half dozen deer and two gray foxes whiz by. Oh well maybe next year. The Geminids meteor shower will be coming on December 13th. Maybe I can see them.  Clearskies.

San Antonio, TX: Thick clouds here, too.  I checked at 3:00am and then again at 4:15 ... which was basically just wishful thinking.  There were a couple of very small breaks, so I tried watching for about 1/2 hour.  The only thing I saw, however, was Jupiter peaking out occasionally.  Too bad!!   I'll be looking for a good report from someone.  

Heather L Sherbourne

Spoiled Rotten: A Night We Will Never Forget

Erie, Pennsylvania: We saw from 4-5 am easily one every 2 seconds, for about 2000 per hour,  increasing to easily one per second (conservatively) from 5-6 am or about 4000 Leonids per hour.  Too many double-hits to count, many triplets and quads.  Three meteors at -4th with persistent trails for up to 5 minutes.  Beautiful sky, easily 6.5 magnitude limit, which is very rare for Erie, PA. ...for once we lucked out.  Great display but just short of "storm" status in my opinion. Gross underestimation by the "experts" as they pegged it at 800-1000 per hour; we easily exceeded those values by a factor of 3!

When does it happen again?! We are now spoiled rotten ... who will ever want to see the normal Perseids or Geminids at "only" 100 per hour???   When we saw tonight easily 100 meteors in a 2 minute time period.  10 second "lulls" were rare ... in fact, one of our observing club members said, " no meteor for 10 seconds? I'm packing it in and going home!"  Of course, he no sooner said that, and a "double" zipped thru the handle of the Big Dipper. Clear Skies

Tom Whiting

East Texas: Clear here in East Texas, but not near as many as was forecast. Maybe 6 a minute.

Bob Moorman, Trinity Texas

Perfect Seeing in the Mojave Desert

Southern California: Went out to the Mojave desert, and had perfect perfect seeing.  Did not do any technical counts but when scanning the sky from 13:30 to 14:30 (Pacific time) it was rare NOT to have at least two visible meteors in the sky at any time.  Just incredible!  Before one burned out two or three more would start (up to five and six at time).  Maybe three large fireballs during that time, not a lot.  I would have guessed (just a guess mind you) that it peaked in excess of 3000, possibly even 4000 meteors and hour.  Just couldn't hang on for the 16:00 peak but on the way home kept seeing hundreds through the windshield while driving and when I got home with massive light pollution around 16:00 could only see maybe 10 a minute.   It was everything and more.  Regrets to those who had poor viewing.


Leonids on the Georgia Coast

Eastern Georgia: Got up at 4AM EST and started the coffee... My front yard has tall
trees surrounding the property giving a vertical window of little more than 90 degrees to view in. Seeing was not great due to low and very light ground fog/haze causing some fuzziness. The show was already going well at 4AM here and had 5 of us ohhhhing and ahhhhing. Very variable, some just barely noticeable "puffs" of light, some short streakes with nice afterglow tails, some not in field of view but noticeable sky brightening from it. No real bolides noticed, but the memorable one started in the east and quickly split into two long bright trails covering most of the viewable sky at about 30 degrees divergence. Never have seen that before and could have an illusion with 2 different meteors, but definitely impressive. Overall impression was lots of small meteors with short luminescent trails. By 5AM we were seeing as many as 4-5 at a time with no more than 5-10 seconds before the next one. By 5:30 the sky was starting to wash out from imminent sunrise, which by 6:30 is light enough to see by here on the coast. Comparison to previous ones... Might have been the time of night and haze, but not as many bright meteors streaking over the majority of the sky and many many more luminous tails after the meteor had burned out.

S Reames

Links to Leonids Web Sites

Leonid Peak Online Estimator: If you want to find out the estimated peak times for where you live, go to this site, and check out your location. At the bottom of the screen is a flux calculator. Pick the city closest to you and launch the calculator. It should give you a pretty good idea what the times will be for your area.

Leonids 2001 Web Sites

Leonid Peak Online Estimator

The American Meteor Society 

  International Meteor Organization 

Thanks to Paul Greenhalgh of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, moderator of the Astronomy Clubs Around the World eGroup, for providing this information.

Ed Flaspoehler, Vice President
American Association of Amateur Astronomers

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