University Lowbrow Astronomers

Leonid Observer’s Guide

by Dave Snyder
Revised: October, 2002

In November 2002, the Leonid meteor shower will return and may possibly be a spectacular event. In previous years Leonids have produced large numbers of meteors, however the number that will be seen is affected by several factors.

On any given night you should expect to see 5 to 10 meteors per hour (under ideal sky conditions), however a good fraction of those meteors are very dim (they look like tiny flickers of light). Even if your view of the Leonids is not ideal, you may still find an increase in the number of meteors (and if you miss this opportunity, there will not be another opportunity to view the Leonids for another 33 years).

The best way to observe meteors is by eye without optical aid. You can observe with binoculars, this increases the number of dim objects you can see, but it also reduces your field of view. In addition it is also possible to observe meteors with an ordinary FM radio (this can be done during daylight, at night, if it is cloudy or if it is clear).

Update (December 1999)

When reporting observations of a meteor shower, people talk of ZHR which is the number of meteors an experienced observer should expect under good observing conditions.

On November 17/18 at Hudson Mills Metropark (near Dexter Michigan), we had a turn out of several hundred people. The number of meteors observed was small. (Later reports suggest the peak particle density occurred at 0200 GMT when the radiant was below the horizon. While we had a reasonable horizon with only a few trees in the distance, there was a lot of light pollution in the direction of the radiant which obscured many of the dim meteors which otherwise might have been observed). One group present at Hudson Mills Metropark reported a total of about 70 meteors over the course of the evening.

I would not be willing to translate that into a ZHR under the circumstances. Most of these meteors were not Leonids (many were Taurids and others were sporatic). It is clearly less than one would expect during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower (which occurs on or around August 11 every year) and cannot be described as a meteor storm.

Observers in the middle east described a ZHR of approximately 5000.

There were numerous reports of a group of objects passing across the sky on the evening of November 16th (about 7 PM Eastern Time). There were observations all across the Midwest United States. Press reports suggested this was connected with the Leonid meteor shower, however this is not likely. These objects were almost certainly space debris that burned up in the earth’s atmosphere.

Update (November 2000)

In the year 2000, we were clouded out at Hudson Mills.

Update (November 2001)

In 2001, it was clear at sunset, but heavy fog settled in, preventing observations from most of Michigan. However a few Michigan locations were not fogged out; many North American observers saw over 1000 meteors per hour. See 2001 - A Leonid Odyssey (November 20, 2001).

Photographs from the 2001 event are available (these are photographs of people, not meteors).

Update (November 2002)

It was completely overcast in 2002 in Southeast Michigan, and no meteors were observed.

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