Report on the 2001 Leonid Meteor Shower

I began my observations at 8:30 UT. While it was mostly clear, there was some haze, and the transparency was only around 4.8. On the best nights the transparency can be almost a full magnitude fainter. The temperature was 29 degrees, but now and then there was a breeze that made it feel colder with the wind chill. Between 8:30 and 9:00 UT I counted 40 meteors. They all left trains, most of the trains green in color, and some of the meteors were bright. There were some times when there would be a minute or two between meteors.

Between 9:00 and 9:30 UT, the intensity picked up, and I counted another 71, for a total of 111. There were several notable meteors during this time. Two bright meteors flashed near Sirius, one above, that had an estimated magnitude of -2, while a couple minutes later the second one flashed below Sirius with an estimated magnitude of -1. A few minutes later four meteors flashed in opposite directions between the legs of the Ursa Major, reminding me of a fireworks starburst display.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 UT the intensity continued to pick up, and I counted another 124, bringing the total to 235. One of the brightest meteors I saw during the display occurred during this time, between -4 and -5, in the eastern sky to the northeast of Arcturus. It was orange and left an orange train. By now the transparency had increased to 5.0. A number of meteors cast shadows.

There were two times between 9:00 and 10:00 UT that I saw something unusual. While scanning my eyes through Leo I saw what appeared to be point meteors near his head: they appeared, briefly brightened, and then disappeared without leaving a train. These did not appear to be satellites.

Even with the start of astronomical twilight after 10:00 UT, the intensity of the meteors continued to increase. Many meteors were visible per minute, often three or four at the same time. A number of bright green meteors were seen that appeared to break into two and leave long trains. Even by 10:45 UT, less then a hour before sunrise, with many of the fainter stars fading away as morning twilight grew, a number of meteors were still visible. Between 10:00 and 10:45 UT and 307 meteors were counted. This brought the total number of meteors observed to 542, after 2 hours and 15 minutes of observation. According to the November issue of S&T, it is likely that what I was observing was the 1766 dust trail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. It was a great display to watch and one I will always remember.

As an update, according to preliminary meteor rates from the International Meteor Organization for the 2001 Leonid Meteor Shower, there appear to have been two peaks: one was at 10:45 UT, with the meteors per hour or ZHR of 1000, and the second one at 18:45 UT, with the meteors per hour or ZHR of 3000. The chart can be seen at: SpaceWeather.com .


Report on the 2002 Leonid Meteor Shower

The weather forecast for the Leonids did not look promising. High clouds were predicted to move in, but I decided to check the conditions around 8:00 UT anyway. There were indeed high clouds around, and with the light from the almost full moon I could only see a few of the brighter stars. I figured that I wasn't going to be able to see any meteors, but decided to check again at 9:00 UT.

When I checked again at 9:00 UT to my surprise there were still a lot of high clouds, in particular to the south and north, but there was an opening to the east, overhead, and west. So I got dressed in my heavy winter clothing and headed outside. It was cold, in the lower 20's, but there was no wind so it didn't feel too cold. One of the first things I noticed was how quiet it was. Once in a while I heard an owl, and later a couple of roosters, but little else.

Overhead I noted that the limiting magnitude wasn't very good, between 2-3. Still, I began to see Leonids. As with last year, there were a number of faint ones, a few brighter ones that were green in color, and some brighter ones that were orange-green. Many meteors left trains. One I estimated to be between -4.5 and 5.0. A couple of other ones were as bright as Jupiter, around -2.2. Just by chance a pair went past Jupiter on either side at the same time. I saw also what appeared to be point meteors. In the eastern sky I noted that Venus, Mars, and Spica formed a triangle.

With the high clouds however I did not see as many as last year. After 10:00 UT the high clouds began to fill in the opening to the east, west and overhead, even though the intensity picked up. So between 9:20 UT - 10:20 UT I counted 91, and another 36 by 10:40 UT, for a total of 127. By comparison last year I saw 542 in a little over two hours. Still, considering the weather conditions I felt fortunate to see any.


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