Leonids from midnight to dawn

And now for some real meteors (as opposed to the mythical ones hurled by Talos yesterday).  The annual Leonid shower is expected to be at its peak on Thursdat November 17, around 12 Universal Time, which is from 5 yo 8 hours earlier in North American time zones – the midnight-to-dawn hours of November 17.

The Leonids were very real in 1833, when people thought the sky was falling, and in 1966, when watchers in Arizona estimated the rate of “shooting stars” as 144,000 per hour.  The Leonids are not expected to put on one of these storms this year.  You might be lucky to see 15 an hour at the peak.  An advantage, however, is that the Moon is out of the sky all night (it will be New on Nov. 18).

The Leonids enter our atmosphere at very high speed, because they are meeting us head-on.

In this picture, the “flight of Earth” and “Leonids overhead” arrows are almost exactly opposed.  At a right angle to Earth’s motion is the overhead Sun, with the Moon in almost that direction too.

The radiant – the point in the sky from which the meteors’ trails appear to spread, in the constellation Leo – comes into view only as your part of the Earth rolls around toward the forward side, that is, after midnight.  Some meteors might be seen from then on, but they should grow more abundant as you roll around toward dawn and the radiant grows higher ibn the sky – and also, this time, as you get nearer to the peak time.  Definitely an experience for the small hours of the night, and we’ll be interested to hear from anyone who braves November small-hours temperatures.  Dress warmly!

The view eastward at local midnight as the head of Leo the Lion rises.  Notice that “Earth’s direction of travel,” in the ecliptic plane, is only a few degrees from the radiant.  Don’t expect to see many meteors simultaneously!

For more detail about the Leonids, you can see what we said about them in previous years




(That was my digression about Leonidas.)



6 thoughts on “Leonids from midnight to dawn”

  1. Probably my most memorable astronomical moment was in early morning November, 1966, watching the Leonid storm. I had read the hopeful predictions of a possible storm, so I set the folding chaise lounge on my driveway and set the alarm for 2 A. M. There were a few meteors at first, but soon they began coming every ten seconds or so. I woke my 5-year-old son, bundled him up and brought him out to see this once-in-a-lifetime event. I encouraged him to count the meteors. He started counting very successfully, but soon said “They’re coming too fast! I can’t keep up.” Even though the show was not over I took him back to bed and returned to my observation site. The Leonids were now coming in bunches. At any given instant there were several meteors in view. For the first time ever, I was able to imagine Earth moving in space, into the meteor stream, like looking trough the windscreen of a car driving through a heavy snow storm. I imagined a mouse on the floor of my workshop looking up and watching the sparks fly at him while I sharpened an axe on my bench grinder. It was certainly the high point of my sky-watching experience.(Sadly, my son does not remember it.)

    1. John, I presume you were in Hawaii then as you are now. It would be interesting to know the geographical range over which the storm was seen, presumably with center in Arizona and radius at least to Hawaii. There must be reports in the Sky & Telescope issues of 1966 December or the early months of 1967. I’m afraid that though I have the CD archive of S&T I haven’t really learned to use it.

      I was in Los Angeles at that time but was not aware of the shower because I still had no more than folk-knowledge of the constellations.

      1. No, Guy, we were in Indiana then. Bloomingon. We didn’t begin our South Seas experiences until we went to American Samoa in 1967 for a two-year contact that lasted 12 years and eventually landed us in Hawaii in 1984. AS wasn’t fully electrified–no streetlights outside town–so night skies were awesome! Here’s one of my photos:


  2. I’m reminded of a night in Nov, 1999, I think, when my Dad was still alive; I bundled him up and laid him out on a plank outside our house upstate at 3:30AM. It was the most amazing shower I’ve ever seen. Not as numerous as the ones cited in your article, but sometimes several within a space of a few seconds.One meteor left a streak that remained over 5 minutes; long enough for the upper atmosphere air currents to blow it into a cloud. No one the following morning complained of me waking them at that ungodly hour of the morning to observe such a storm. Knowing we’re far from that peak, I’ll settle for what the skies’ll bring us tonite, although I’m rather confined to the light polluted skies of the Bronx, but will get upstate for hopefully another night of decent watching. Go Talos! Throw some of those meteor producing rocks.

  3. There’s an error in the first paragraph. The peak will be on Friday November 17, not Thursday.

    In any event, it’s raining buckets here in San Francisco, so I don’t expect to see anything other than raindrops falling through the atmosphere tonight or tomorrow morning.

  4. Back in the 1990’s, I remember watching them fall in the early AM with the sun coming up.

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