Leonid Meteor Shower

Leonid Meteor Shower Peaked Monday
November 19, 2012

 Local professional photographer, David McChesney, captures unusual “double” celestial event Monday night.

David writes: “Hi -  I Facebooked this but wanted to share with you this fortunate capture last night.  It was the shower’s second peak and certainly not observed by many as it was after the weekend and the first peak left a lot to be desired.  Hope you enjoy.  You can always “friend” me at David McChesney. My best… David”

Thanks for your contribution and thoughtfulness David.

The best view for this year’s Leonid meteor shower was hours before dawn on November 19. However, the Moon and “city light pollution” likely washed out all but the brightest meteors – look to the left of the obvious near vertical “comet” line for the second display.

Though the meteors appear to originate from the constellation Leo, the lion, they can be seen in all parts of the sky. For the best chance of having seen them, facing away from the Moon (and Leo) and observing the darkest part of your sky yielded the best views.

Last weekend (Sat/Sun Nov 17-18) marked the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower for 2012.

However, despite what most of the news media may lead you to believe, there is a lot more to the Leonid shower than the night of the peak. While most news outlets only focus on the peak night, the fact is that the Leonids will not be going away any time soon.

Unlike what may have been suggested by most non-astronomical news sources, the Leonid shower lasts for about two weeks, a week on either side of the peak night. That’s an awfully large debris field. The shower is caused by Earth running into a wide-area trail of space debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle every year.

This “comet trail”, the debris our Earth orbits through, does not suddenly dissappear. The comet trail simply sits there, not really doing anything other than ORBITING around our solar system and eventually gets around to near Earth, once each year – and Earth, in it’s normal orbit trip around our Sun, simply slides through the debris field because it is simply there in the path of Earth’s orbit track. Kinda like throwing a baseball through a dust cloud. During Earth’s orbit, our atmosphere may encounter bits and pieces of the dust, chunks and other comet debris. Some of this debris is large enough (tennis ball and larger) to provide the “light-show” we often label a “shooting star”.  Very small bits of comet debris, due entirely to heat producing friction, passes through our atmosphere will heat up and glow with a firery display that we view as “shooting stars”. Larger chunks that pass through our atmosphere will “glow” much larger and brighter — because the chunk is larger than the spark from a golfball sized comet rock, burns up pretty fast — in many, within just fractions of a single second. The larger the comet chunk, the larger and brighter the firery display, and the longer it lasts. 

Bottom line: the Leonids aren’t going anywhere anytime soon! So, with the Leonids sticking around for a while, why not go out and continue to enjoy them?

Leonid meteors are not physically associated with Leo. They are leftover debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, it leaves a trail of debris. The Leonids meteors recur each year when Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail, and chunks of the debris burn up in our planet’s atmosphere. Chunks that don’t burn up completely, and hit the ground, are called meteorites.

Published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, StarDate magazine provides readers with sky watching tips, sky maps, beautiful astronomical photos, astronomy news and features, and a 32-page Sky Almanac each January.

Established in 1932, The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world’s largest, which will soon be upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment. An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

David McChesney’s photo books and nature images can be seen at www.outmywindows.com

Resources: Stardate Magazine: http://stardate.org/mediacenter


About Bill Ford, Founder

Born in the late 30s - you do the math. Lots of life experiences in numerous endevors but not an expert in any that I know of. I'm a fan of challenging projects. When I'm told it can't be done I go ahead and do it anyway. This web site is one of 'em. How long will this web site last? Hard to say. Depends on how long I live. Film at Eleven. --bf
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