How to View Meteor Showers
METEOR STORMS (Leonids etc.)
METEOR STORMS (Leonids)
How to View Meteor Showers.
These meteor showers actually occur when the earth in its orbit around the sun, is passing through a particular band or "stream" of meteoroid dust particles: these meteoroid streams are usually the debris trails of periodic comets, or in some cases (i.e., the Geminids) asteroids. To try to visualize these meteoroid streams, imagine the Earth having to wade a "river of dust" every 12 months: this "river" is the meteoroid stream, and the debris which strikes Earth causes what we call a "meteor shower"!
Meteor storms are both extremely rare (once in decades) and extremely hard to predict. However, they can be life-changing events to witness (and in fact, a number of religious movements have been spawned by historic meteor storms, e.g., the Transcendentalist and Methodist Reform movements born soon after Nineteenth Century Leonid storms!) During a meteor storm, the sky seems to literally "fill with falling fire", and as many as 10 or more falling stars can be seen during a single SECOND of observing!
Finally, on many occasions hopeful watchers are given the opportunity to see not a full-blown storm of meteor activity, but rather a significant, very noticeable enhancement over normal meteor activity. Such enhanced-activity events are generally termed meteor shower outburst. Note that unlike a "storm", which is always an exciting event, "outburst" are merely a relative enhancement: if a meteor shower is normally strong, like the Perseids of August or Leonids of November, then an outburst may very well approach - but not reach - the intensity of a meteor storm. If however a shower is normally a weaker event, for example the Ursids of late December, then its "outburst" may be only noticeable as a significant enhancement to careful meteor watchers, who are used to observing meteors in general and that shower in particular.
"North American Meteor Network". NAMN is a small, friendly organization which provides excellent introductory materials (for people in ALL areas of the Globe) on amateur meteor observing for fun and Science:
North American observers will also wish to peruse the American Meteor
Society's fact-filled pages about meteor observing, fireballs, radio
meteors and other topics, at:
Here is a set of other sites providing much more detail about the theory of meteor storms, the realistic prospects for seeing an outburst from the Leonids, and how to record such an outburst if it occurs again in 2006!
First, Cathy Hall of the North American Meteor Network in 2002 wrote an excellent article, "Leonids - Your Planning Guide" for the November 2002 issue of "NAMN Notes"! http://www.namnmeteors.org/namnnotes0211.html
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has devoted considerable resources
to tracking Leonid storm predictions over the past five years. Here is
a summary from the MSFC, of predictions from the three most prominent
scientific teams trying to predict what the Leonids would do in 2002:
For up to date predictions by one scientist, plus additional
scientific information on the various models and predictions of Leonid
outbursts in the recent past, including the Leonid Storm of 1999, read
Dr. Peter Jenniskens' informational site, hosted by NASA at:
Dr. Jenniskens' site at NASA provides an online "Rate Estimator",
allowing you to compare predicted Leonid meteor rates with actual
rates as seen from your favorite observing site in past years:
For another perspective on the exciting science of predicting meteor shower outbursts, as well as how amateurs like you can help to verify and refine those predictions, see the Leonid pages of the renowned scientists Dr. David Asher and Dr. Rob McNaught, hosted on the Armaugh Observatory Web-site:
And in particular, here is their page which gives the (unique, so far as
I am aware) prediction of a possible Leonid outburst in 2006:
One of the two scientists who have developed this particular set of
successful models, Dr. Rob McNaught, has also written an information
sheet for amateurs, about meteor storms and the Leonids:
Also here is a less-publicized addition to the complex "game" of prediction meteor storms. Drs. Jérémie Vaubaillon and Francois Colas of the Paris Observatory lab which was once known as the Bureau des Longitudes (http://www.imcce.fr), with the support of the French Space Agency (CNES), have produced a predictive stream model, and published details and results on the Web at:
And here is the same predictions page, IN FRENCH:
Finally, another scientific team who have had success in predicting
Leonid storms in recent years, are Dr. Esko Lyytinen (aided by Markku
Nissinen) of Finland, and Dr. Tom Van Flandern of the USA:
You can learn more about the Lyytinen-Van Flandern scientific model
and its predictions, by reading the paper at the following site:
The renowned Japanese amateur visual and radio meteor observer Hiroshi
Ogawa has compiled a single set of graphs, which attempt to take into
account ALL of the Leonid available predictions, as well as viewing
conditions around the world!
For those interested in comparing notes on their own observing
campaigns to see the Great Leonid Storm of 2001, in particular,
the LEO2001 mailing list and archive will be of interest:
Gary Kronk's wonderful "Annual Meteor Shower Calendar" provides a
guide to watching many of the major, minor, and periodic showers which
can occur each year:
To learn much more from Gary's site about watching the
Leonid shower in particular, look under "November" in the
How did the theoreticians do with their predictions for the great Leonids of 2001? Well, the Internation Meteor Organization (IMO), an independent amateur scientific body, has published a preliminary Analysis of the 2001 Leonid Storms.
I also highly recommend reading the IMO's "Hints for Observing the 1998 Leonids", which actually provides many excellent pointers to prepare observers for recording any possible outburst display! (Mirror page here.)
Well known American meteorologist and amateur meteor science author
Joe Rao has put together an entire site dedicated to what Joe calls
the "King of the Meteor Showers" - the Leonids:
Or you may wish to browse the very popular and informative Sky & Telescope Meteor Pages.
More basic information from Sky & Telescope is available here:
While a more advanced "S&T" guide to meteor observing is here:
Finally, a research known for his work in "catastrophe" theory (e.g.,
asteroid and comet impacts), Michael Paine, has put together his own
list of "Leonid Links", with emphasis on the (putative) threat to
communications and other satellites in Earth orbit:
Lastly, for French speakers ONLY, the following site has been compiled
to "spread the word" about the Leonids among the Francophone world:
Predictions for Lunar Leonid Impacts - 2001
Coming up to November 2001's Leonid meteor shower, scientists and amateurs had been building up their expectations for three years running: First, in 1998 the predictions for the Leonids had been carefully guarded and highly uncertain. Of course, no storms from the Leonids were seen in 1998. And yet the "King of Meteor Showers" provided observers around the entire globe with one of the most incredible showers of fireballs (meteors brighter than the planets) in living memory!
(The 1998 Leonids produced an extraordinary and generally unexpected display of fireballs lasting over 24 hours... There was no "storm" of fainter meteors as predicted, though some analyses suggested that the "storm component" of smaller particles could in fact be detected in data from Central China and Mongolia! See the IMO Web site for a detailed summary of this analysis. Mirror page here.)
After these (limited) successes and the attention they generated, models were refined with the data collected by both amateurs and professionals in 1998. As a result, predictions coming into the 1999 shower began to sound increasingly precise, and increasingly confident. Never before in the Twentieth Century had expectations for a meteor display among observers and the public been so high!
And amazingly, the Leonids lived up to their reputation - and to some of the predictions of several key "dust trail" models - once again in 1999! The IMO site again published the results of that year's analysis, trumpeting a good deal more confidence in the success of 1999's batch of predictive models. Mirror page here.
However, unlike in 1998, the really breathtaking displays of 1999 were reserved for only a certain narrow part of the earth's surface - just five time zones. This caused many casual observers - particularly in the US - to erroneously refer to this incredible year as a "dud" for the Leonids. Yet for those few in lucky longitudes, the display in 1999 was orders of magnitude more intense than 1998: To get an idea what it felt like to actually SEE the meteor storm of 17/18 November 1999, listen to this audio sample from an actual recorded observing session that night.
Well needless to say, once again in 2000 the Leonids came through for humanity! Although they did not produce a true storm as seen from anywhere on earth, they did produce a wonderful and very rare outburst of activity, and that year the fun could be experienced for those in the latitudes of Western Europe and the Eastern United States! Gary Kronk, within his delightful "Meteor Observing Calendar", has an excellent Summary of Leonid 2000 Results.
And how about the 2001 Leonids: Well, as one of the observers privileged to see the "Asian Storm", one of two paired meteor storms which blessed humanity around the globe in 2001 , this author can resoundingly and truthfully say, "Yes! The Lion once again reigned supreme in the fated year of 2001!"
The year 2002 was a bittersweet one: Many observers in Europe, and much of North America, had the opportunity to enjoy a "farewell"(?) outburst. For this observer, sadly, conditions conspired in the New England States of the USA, such that he JUST MISSED this last in the great string of Leonid meteor events. Still, I was heartened recently to read that Messrs. Asher & McNaught have a tentative prediction for one last (small) outburst of the Leonids in 2006.
This shower was generally considered to be a "weak member" of the "Major Shower Calendar" back in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet now for five years running, it has produced displays that exceed those of any other annual meteor shower, either in brightness or in the sheer number of meteors to be seen. Will 2006 be a final, farewell year of an incredible run of luck for meteor observers and scientists? Why not watch with your fellow meteor watchers worldwide and find out!
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Lew Gramer <email@example.com>