Although the weather forecast for much of north America this weekend is a bit foreboding, the Leonid meteors will fly regardless of the climatalogical situation. Luna could hardly be more cooperative, lunation 1174 will begin at 11:42 UT on Saturday the 18th (6:42 am EST) so lunar glare will not be an issue.
The Leonids are debris from comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle and produced great meteor storms in the years of 1833, 1866, 1966, and 2001. I was busy playing teen-age radio disc jockey and doing other silly juvenile stuff back in ’66 and missed the great Leonid storm that year.
In 2001 I spent some time observing a imaging the Leonids during breaks in an amateur radio operating event. I did manage to capture a Leonid with my camera that morning.
The predictions for this year’s edition of the Leonids are modest. According to Robert Lunsford’s AMS Meteor Outlook for November 18-24:
The Leonids (LEO) are active from a radiant located at 10:23 (156) +21. This area of the sky is located in western Leo, only 1 degree northeast of the 2nd magnitude star known as Algeiba (gamma Leonis). Rates are expected to be near 5 per hour Saturday morning, falling slightly with each passing night. Rates seen from the southern hemisphere will be slightly lower. These meteors are best seen during the last hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. With an entry velocity of 70 km/sec., the average Leonid meteor would be of swift velocity.
As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately 12 sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near 4 per hour. As seen from the tropical southern latitudes (25S), morning rates would be near 8 per hour as seen from rural observing sites and 3 per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Morning rates are reduced during this period due to moonlight.
As Lunsford notes the best time for observing the Leonids will be between the hours of local midnight and dawn. The “radiant” or spot in the sky from which these meteors will appear to radiate is near the “sickle” or “head” of constellation Leo and is currently rising at approximately midnight local time.
If your skies are clear, conditions aren’t frigid and winds are relatively calm Friday and Saturday night bundle up, relax in your favorite lawn chair or hammock, fix your gaze toward the darkest part of the sky and enjoy the show.
Might I suggest you blend your favorite concoction of “Leonid Lemonade” (I’ll leave the ingredients to your imagination) as accompanyment to your Leonid observing adventure!
For more information visit the International Meteor Organization website