This year's annual display of the Leonid meteor shower occurs during the interval 15th to 20th November, with the broad peak of activity occurring during the night of Friday 18th and Saturday 19th. During this broad maximum, up to 20 meteors per hour may be visible for a few hours after midnight, if there are ideal sky conditions.
The Leonid Meteors Final Fling?
David Asher of the Armagh Observatory and Robert McNaught have calculated that a further enhanced peak will occur at 4.45am on Sunday, 19th November when a rate of up to 120 faint meteors per hour may be visible in a dark sky for a brief period. This enhanced peak represents the Earth's last encounter for another generation, that is until the early 2030s, with the dense trail of dust produced by one of the more recent passages of the parent comet.
Meteors, or shooting stars, are the streaks of light produced when tiny dust particles, orbiting the Sun, run into the Earth's atmosphere and vaporise in one or two seconds. Large particles, up to pebble-size, can produce very bright meteors known as fireballs, rivalling in luminosity some of the brighter planets. The Leonids are particles that were shed from Comet Tempel-Tuttle each time it passed close to the Sun during its approximately 33-year orbital period. This year's enhanced shower is due to the Earth passing through the trail of dust shed from the comet during its 1932 passage through the inner solar system.
Leonids travel at very high speeds through our atmosphere, up to about 160,000 miles per hour, and many leave persistent trains. Conditions this month are favourable for observing the shower as there will be no interference from the nearly new Moon. The most favoured longitudes to view the event are those of Western Europe and Western Africa. Observers should find a dark site, away from artificial lights, and look after midnight, preferably towards the north-east. At this time of year, you should wrap-up well in several layers of warm clothing to stave off the cold.
See also: Leonid Pages
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jmfarm.ac.uk; URL: http://climate.arm.ac.uk/.
Last Revised: 2006 November 14th
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