Juan Carlos Casado of SKYLOOK combined 30 one-minute exposures to create this extraordinary image. "A fisheye lens was oriented toward Leo," explains Casado. "Jupiter is the brilliant central dot. The observing site was the Cape Creus Nature Park--the most eastern point on the Iberian peninsula. The Mediterranean sea can be seen in the background. My wife, Isabel Graboleda, helped me capture these exposures. Also note our dog, Leica, in the foreground watching the show."

First observational results

  • 2002 Leonids Meteor Gallery
  • Leonids Special Report
  • Meteor shower hidden by cloud
  • Dazzling display: early results of the Leonid meteor shower

    From Cosmic Mirror, 22 November 2002


    None of the five predictions in the last issue had it all right, but Vaubaillon & Colas got the best timing while - unfortunately for the visual observers - Langbroek 'won' with respect to the meteor rates. Both predicted peaks materialized, both were some 10 minutes late, and both reached a zenithal hourly rate of only about 2500 (which was further diminished by the light from the almost full Moon). Nonetheless the Leonids did it again, even four years after the parent comet had passed by.

    And while the two storms of 2002 rank only as the 3rd and 4th strongest of the five that pleased us in 1999, 2001 and 2002, there were again all the features we've come to expect from the Leonids: earthgrazing meteors while the radiant rose, bright meteors all over the sky and occasional fireballs with persistent trains (though not nearly as many as in 2001, let alone 1998). The peaks were very sharp, however, with full width half maximum times of only about 45 minutes each (in this respect, by the way, Jenniskens 'won').

    This unusually spiky ZHR profile threw more than one observer into confusion as there wasn't the steady rise over several hours towards the peaks - when the radiant rose at the geometrically optimal sites in Europe and America, the rates were surprisingly low, only to take off after several hours. In Europe there was a pleasing encore, though, after the main peak from the 7-rev. trail as apparently two other, lesser dust trails kept the meteor rate from falling all the way back until sunrise. (Based on the IMO Shower Circular of Nov. 22 and the webmaster's own impressions on Tenerife)

    Daniel Fischer

    2002 November 22

    I M O   S h o w e r   C i r c u l a r

    LEONIDS 2002

    Two strong activity peaks of the Leonid meteor shower were predicted. The times fell between 03:48 to 04:04 UT for the first one, and between 10:23 to 10:47 UT for the second peak, both on November 19, 2002.

    A first activity analysis from the reports of 86 observers, who logged 19443 Leonids, is given below. The ZHR refers to a stellar limiting magnitude of +6.5, a radiant elevation of 90 deg, and counts of single observers. A population index of r=2 was applied, although the inspection of data suggests a large abundance of faint meteors, thus a larger r. The ZHRs would increase likewise.

    The peak time of the first maximum is 04:10 UT with ZHR=2350. The second peak is found near 10:50 UT or a few minutes earlier with ZHR=2660. Both peaks occurred later than the predictions by about the same time lapse. The predictions of the Leonid stream model of Vaubaillon (WGN 30:5, 2002) are closest to reality according to this first analysis.

    Nov  UT   Sollong   N   LEO   ZHR   +-
    16  2000  234.257   2    10     19   6
    17  0300  234.551   6    15      6   2
    17  2200  235.349  13    96     37   4
    18  0400  235.601  12    78     26   3
    18  2000  236.273  21   431     98   5
    18  2300  236.399  22   195    100   7
    19  0000  236.441  26   330    101   6
    19  0110  236.490  27   271    188  11
    19  0140  236.511  24   218    201  14
    19  0210  236.532  21   266    249  15
    19  0220  236.539  20   332    305  17
    19  0240  236.553  36   342    300  16
    19  0255  236.564  16   157    275  22
    19  0306  236.571  22   205    375  26
    19  0316  236.578  28   329    497  27
    19  0327  236.586  27   484    583  27
    19  0335  236.591  48  1047    756  23
    19  0343  236.597  20   412    930  46
    19  0345  236.599  32   719   1162  43
    19  0353  236.604  35   768   1344  49
    19  0358  236.608  47  1341   1542  42
    19  0402  236.610  36  1248   1966  56
    19  0408  236.615  31  1335   2353  64
    19  0413  236.618  17   912   2332  77
    19  0418  236.622  30  1253   1995  57
    19  0426  236.627  35   933   1367  45
    19  0436  236.634  38   681    989  38
    19  0447  236.642  24   416    635  31
    19  0500  236.651  31   395    675  34
    19  0518  236.664  50   505   1014  45
    19  0535  236.676  22   189    572  42
    19  0555  236.690  15    97    144  15
    19  0620  236.707  15    87    142  15
    19  0800  236.777  14   166    272  21
    19  0905  236.823  21   217    307  21
    19  0930  236.840  27    99    152  15
    19  0947  236.852  21    72    267  32
    19  1000  236.861  21   128    293  26
    19  1010  236.868  31   192    707  51
    19  1018  236.874  19   396    907  46
    19  1023  236.877  15   134    965  83
    19  1030  236.882  27   288   1364  80
    19  1040  236.889  26   350   2108 112
    19  1050  236.896  28   587   2656 110
    19  1100  236.903  19   297   1061  62
    19  1112  236.912  17   130    490  43
    19  1135  236.928   7   184    366  27
    19  2200  237.366   6    99    123  12
    20  0500  237.660  11     4     10   5

    Solar longitudes refer to equinox J2000.0, N is the number of observing periods involved in the average ZHR, LEO is the number of Leonid meteors. The error of the ZHR is simply ZHR/sqrt(LEO) here. No special zenith exponent was applied to account for non-geometrical effects in radiant elevation correction.

    We are very grateful to the enthusiastic community of meteor observers who have sent in their results, mostly through the online express form. All observers are encouraged to send their FULL DATA including magnitudes and possibly shorter time-bins for the counts within the next week.

    (An error in the online form script has lead to erroneous output in geographical latitude and radiant elevation; the actual results presented here are not affected though.)

    V. Krumov, M. Gyssens, R. Arlt

    November 21, 2002

    Forward Scatter Meteor Observations of Leonids 2002

    Observer:    Ton Schoenmaker
    Location:    Roden, Netherlands (06 26' E, 53 08' N)
    Frequency:   60.500 MHz
    Transmitter: French TV channel L3 (video); transmitter in Carcassonne (100 kW),
                 distance ~1100 km             
    Antenna:     3-elements horizontal Cushcraft 50 MHz Yagi tuned to 55.3 MHz;
                 geographical azimuth 195 degrees (SSW) 
    Receiver:    Yupiteru MVT-9000 in USB mode; sensitivity 0.5 uV at 12 dB S/N
    Observing:   800 Hz audio signal from earphone socket was rectified, digitised 
                 and fed into a PC via the parallel computer port. HP VEE was used 
                 to process the digitised signal and to store 15-minutes counts of
                 reflections stronger than 0.22 uV (-120 dBm). Also for all 
                 individual meteors date, time, duration (dead time) and maximum 
                 signal are stored.

    Like previous years counting of the Leonid reflections was difficult. This was due to many long duration reflections caused by fast and bright Leonids. Therefore the dead-time corrected counts (Figure 1) as well as the hourly dead-time percentages (Figure 2) are given. Both figures show also the data corrected for radiant elevation.

    Figure 1. Dead-time corrected counts for 30-minutes periods of Leonids. The light red data are only corrected for dead-time, the bright red blue data are also corrected for elevation of the radiant.

    Although the results may have been influenced by individual long reflections, both figures show peaks on November 19 around 4h15m, 7h00m and 10h45m UTC.

    Figure 2. Reflection percentages for 30-minutes periods of Leonids. The light blue data are uncorrected, the dark blue data are corrected for elevation of the radiant.

    Ton Schoenmaker, Dutch Meteor Society and IMO

    November 19, 2002

    Leonids from Northern California

    I observed with a small team near Ukiah, California. We had to deal with some high cirrus clouds that from time to time moved across our skies, but a very nice big clear area arrived just in time - the sky was clear and dry from 08:30 UT on. All main stars in Ursa Minor could be seen, so we estimated our limiting magnitude to be at 4.0. It was handy to have Jupiter near the radiant as a way to judge brightness of shower members. A good many meteors were just visible in the moonlight.

    There were two definite peaks of activity, as you will see below. All times are UT.


    At 08:20 to 08:45, we saw several " grazers" most of which left long trails - and three of them were magnitude -3. Rate was about 40 per hour. After that, not much at all.

    At 09:45 we had a "false start" in that we had a short lived flurry that reached an Observed Hourly Rate of about 100 for 15 minutes or so.

    At 10:38 it broke loose - the peak hit suddenly and the rates rose rapidly. Within 15 minutes the rate was up to an estimated Observed Hourly Rate of 350.

    Main maximum for us was at 11:20. Observed Hourly rate maximum was judged to be close to 480! Not bad!

    There was a definite SECOND peak that was centered on 12:00 and this lasted for a total of 20 minutes. Observed Hourly Rate rose quickly to 275. These members seemed brighter over all than the first peak. This reminded us of the two peaks during the 2001 storm.

    Brightest member seen was a blue-white fireball at magnitude -6, and it left a visible smoke train that was seen for five minutes even with the Moon!


    Personal note - after seeing parts of the 1966 storm, I counted the years until 1999+ and while no where near what I saw from Southern California deserts then (there were some clouds that covered half the sky).

    I would add that this was not the show like last year, even accounting for the Moon, but still very nice. It was a bit less than I expected and up until the activity really picked up, it was pretty dull! The first peak of activity was sharp and pronounced. Must have been a pretty thin ribbon of debris.

    I am happy to have seen these "storms" the past few years. Being 60, I doubt I will make the next one! But the magic of the meteors has never gone away.

    Bill Smith

    Nice Meteor Show in Galveston County

    There was a very pleasant sky show before dawn today here at Soaring Hawk Ranch in rural Galveston County, Texas. Seeing conditions were mediocre -- a setting full moon, and high thin clouds drifting by -- but bright fireballs kept popping up. It wasn't a 'storm' like last year, seen spectacularly through thin ground fog, but it was very nice indeed. Temperature was approx 60degF with a light north wind, and occasional mosquitos.

    I first went out about 3:45 CST (0945GMT) and observed for about ten minutes without seeing a single meteor. This was dismaying, but back inside I verified that the peak was still ahead. So I went back outside about 04:10 CST and settled in. I was on a horizontal chaise lounge on the patio on the east side of my house, with the house blocking the moonlight, and a totally dark horizon -- not a single artificial light. Castor and Pollux were overhead, and nearby, Jupiter. Leo was already halfway up the eastern sky. My labrador kept laying her head in my lap for ear-scratching and for reassurance against the imagined sounds of wild creatures in the underbrush.

    The fireballs began to be visible at intervals of a minute or two. These were the bright ones seen through the scattered thin haze, and most left brief milky-white trails. All the fireballs, then and later, appeared pure white. I was able to see meteors in all directions from the radiant -- left, right, down, and of course especially up into the usually clear overhead sky.

    This rate continued for about half an hour, until at 04:42 AM CST (10:42GMT) I noted a sharp increase. It's hard to estimate rate with the obscured sky view, but in relative terms it was well above ten times the rate of the previous half hour. I was seeing 3-4 bright fireballs per minute, and occasionally one-two in rapid succession. This lasted for eight minutes until at 04:50 there was a marked drop-off, with rates dropping to the earlier background (a fireball overy 2-3 minutes) by 05:10 AM CDT (10:10 GMT). I watched for another 10-15 minutes, then shut down and went inside and sat in the hot tub for awhile.

    Cooky also came outside for the tail end of the 'burst period' and we sat and watched the skies together for awhile. During the observations I also was in occasional mobile phone conversation with my sister and my nephew atop their apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and they too were spotting fireballs -- from New York City! -- even though taller buildings obscured their views to the east and to the west.

    To sum up: I imagine that perfectly clear air would have increased the observable rate, but Gulf Coast weather being what it is (usually lousy), I made no complaints to Mother Nature -- it could have been LOTS worse. Even as the moonlight clouds drifted across the sky I could usually see mag 0 and even mag 1 stars through them, as well as watching fireballs cross 20-30 degrees of sky leaving trains also visible through the mist. An altogether very satisfying observation!!

    Jim Oberg

    Leonids from Clermont, FL

    I must say this was by far the best Leonids I have seen. My wife and I went out about 4:15 EST, absolutely no clouds in sight. For about the first hour it was pretty slow, then around 5:30 things really began to pickup. I don't recall ever seeing two meteors at the same time, much less 3 or 4! In all,by the time we stopped at 6:05am we counted a total of 507 meteors!

    David Zurcher

    2002 Leonids a bust from the streets of Brooklyn

    For the first predicted peak at 2300 here in Brooklyn, New York I didn't really bother looking much because the radiant was too low on the horizon. I looked a little, but didn't see anything.

    We went out at 0455 to try to catch the next peak, and we stayed until 0550. Conditions were sub-optimnal. There was a bit of high haze, although Jupiter and the brighter stars of Leo were visible. Of course the nearly full Moon was off just north of west, but we had some buildings blocking its direct light and we kept our back to it. Of course these being the streets of Brooklyn we also had street lights and other light pollution to deal with. But these were the same conditions we had a year ago.

    I don't think we saw 20 Leonids. One was right near the radiant and was brighter than Jupiter, but it was a really short trail that didn't persist or anything. The rest were just regular "shooting stars" and some so faint as to be barely glimpsed. No "storm," and not even much of a shower. Venus was something of a bright distraction towards the end. We left when false dawn started to color the sky and it was obvious that we were not going to see much more than we already had.

    Last year we saw hundreds of meteor trails from the same street and quite a number were spectacular. My impression is that the conditions (light pollution, etc.) were not the main reason why we saw so far fewer than last year. Oh well, better luck in 2099, or whenever.

    R. Paul Martin

    Leonids Arrived in Scotland

    Started observing at 2:40am, skies were virtually cloud free (less than 1 octa of cirrus). Limiting magnitude around +3.3

    Between 2:40am and 3:30 am looking in the general direction of Cancer/Gemini I clocked up 34 shooters. The brightest couple were around mag -2.5 (Jupiter is handy atm). I had a 5 minute break at 3:30am to get some heat in me (mug of coffee etc). Was thinking to myself, mmmm like an average Perseid display - but pure white and Fast!

    Resumed again around 3:36am and the next 5 minutes were much in the same vain, looking in the direction of Ursa Major this time. Limiting mag was around +4.0 now. Swapped round to look back towards Gemini and at around 3:45am things really started to get going.

    In the next 15 minutes I counted 116 shooters, (now that's more like a meteor storm) often coming in bursts of three or four at a time. I was getting exited. Around 15% were 1st magnitude or brighter. My watch alarm went off at 4am and for the next 15 minutes I counted up another 136, one of which was borderline fireball and left a trail which glowed for around 20 seconds through Canis Minor (about mag -4).

    In the period 4:15am to 4:30am the rate was initially high but fell of markedly in the last 3 or 4 minutes, 91 spotted in that 15 minute period.

    I stayed out 10 minutes longer, only 27 seen between 4:30am and 4:40am. The cold got the better of me so I headed indoors.

    It's the first meteor shower I've watched since the Perseids back in 1994 and it really put those to shame for the 40 minutes either side of 4:00am. Otherwise it was quite tame really. The sheer speed of them is great to see, perhaps to fast, but few fragment or leave lasting trails. I spotted 4 random meteors over the time span.

    Total for the 2 hour observation period: 445. Not bad for a full moonlit sky and a single observer. Definitely wouldn't see those totals with the Perseids! Wonder what the peak ZHR from that was? Well predicted too, I just hope I don't find out that the peak of the storm was whilst I've been typing this post!

    Bed time for me.

    Alex Stephens Jr
    North Lanarkshire weather
    Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, Scotland

    Leonids from Manchester!

    Can't believe that just for once, Manchester area seems to have been exceptionally clear for an Astronomical event!

    I went out from 03.50 to 04.40 and had only a short period of drifting cloud, otherwise total clarity, and good transparency. For once, with the strong moonlight, light pollution probably made little difference.

    I was very poorly prepared having expected cloud cover from the west during the night, so no photography attempted, but the display was certainly the best I have ever seen, though not quite a storm!

    In 50 minutes, I clocked 127 meteors, mostly fairly swift, with short trails of about 2-3 degrees, though a few further from the radiant were up to about 20 degrees. Most of them were not very bright, around mag 2.5/3, but there were some up to about -0 I would say. Juptier was of course prominent as a good comparison for bright events, and none was anywhere near as bright as the planet.

    Just occasionally, two meteors occurred simultaneously, or two or three in rapid succession, which gave a bit of a sense of what a real "storm" might look like. You do get the feeling of "spaceship earth" speeding toward the radiant - if you use a bit of imagination!

    Well worth looking at, and I'm sorry I didn't prepare better or do anything very scientific, or wear more warmer clothes!!

    Paul Richardson

    Leonid image from Cumbria

    © 2002: Robin Leadbetter

    We were blessed with almost completely clear skies here and I managed to capture some Leonid images with my modified surveillence camera.

    The image is a composite of 150x 2 second exposures and was taken between 03:43 and 04:05. It shows 3 bright meteors and about a dozen fainter ones. The white blobs are clouds. The bright object bottom right is Jupiter. The steaks are the meteors, diverging from the radiant in Leo."

    Robin Leadbetter
    NW Cumbria

    Leonids: Northumberland

    A few members of the Northumberland Astronomical Society gathered at the beach at Low Hauxley at 3am have seen a pretty impressive display despite the misty conditions and sometimes substantial cloud cover. Against the odds, we had a fairly clear spell from about 3:35am to 4:25am......

    Activity seemed to be most intense for a few minutes either side of 4:10am.

    We had counts of 7, 8, 14 and 15 meteors per minute. Sometimes there would be a flurry of meteors streaking across different parts of the sky at the same time. I wonder how many we weren't seeing. The brightest meteor I saw was about -3. The best part of the sky to look at seemed to be the radiant: lots of fast meteors with short paths seemed to appear not far from it. I also saw what I presume to be meteors coming almost 'head on'; they looked a bit like Iridium flares. A large percentage of all the meteors I saw left trains and many seemed to have a green tinge.

    Adrian Jannetta

    Leonids Double Maximum 04:00 and 04:30

    We saw 10-15 per minute around 04:00 and another peak starting at 04:30. Clouded out after that. Too many to count at 04:00. Full on!

    Before the first peak we were seeing about 5 per minute for 20 minutes. Between the rate dropped down to 1-2 per minute.

    Paul Clark (UK)

    Leonidi: che c**o

    I leaved from Rome and I tried to observe from the Argentario peninsula, with a friend of mine. Then 3 other guys from Venice joyned us and the sky opened just in time for the maximum, then immediately after it covered again!!!!!! The sky has been clear, even if not very limpid, with magnitudine limit about 5.0/5.1.

    The meteors were weak (to the contrary of what had been foreseen) and we have seen only one bolide (but there was an incredible flare that illuminated the landscape like the Full Moon, perhaps one Leonid).

    Anyhow the maximum must have been around 05h05m, with an approximate rate of 15 meteors/minute. Considering the not very good sky, the ZHR had to be around 3000/3500, nearly like in 1999.

    Many meteors, even if disturbed from the Moon, had trails, also those between 0 and -1 Mag (very few with -3 Mag).

    The dominant colors of meteors were blue and green (also in some trails). We hope in some photo, even if I doubt because they were not very luminous.

    Roberto Haver


    I'm just coming back from the mountains and it was great!

    The sky was quiet bright, but very clear. I estimate meteor rates between 500 and 5000. Around the maximum at 5:00 we saw a leonid practically wherever we looked.

    The maximum was attained very abruptly, but it faded really slowly. Even now I can see some leonids, and the sky is almost blue! Observers in America will be delighted.

    Btw: We saw two fireballs. Actually, we did not see them, only the bright flash they caused and the trail they left. Both trails stayed in the sky for about 10 seconds.

    A very nice finale and a good compensation for last year's cloudy disaster.

    Jan Exner

    Leonids: Australia

    I was observing the Leonid meteor shower this morning from Geraldton, Western Australia at Nov 18 19h-20h UT. I saw about ten Leonids in not so perfect conditions (Full moon, slight haze and LM about 5.5). Only one meteor was of magnitude 0.

    Timo Karhula

    Get detailed predictions for a city:   Meteor Storm Forecast
    Photographing the Leonids? Go to: Meteor Photography Tips
    Observing the Leonids? Go to:       Leonid Observing tips

    Observations and/or photographs? Leoniden2002@astronet.nl

    General information:

  • Marine Leonid meteor observing campaign 2002
  • Aerial Leonid meteor observing campaign 2002
  • The Truth about the 2002 Leonid Meteor Storm
  • The October Leonid Forecast for 2002
  • Leonids 2002!
  • The International Project for Radio Meteor Observation - 2002 Leonids
  • 2002 Leonids
  • Leonids 2002: Position of the Radiant
  • IMO 2002 Meteor Shower Calendar: Leonids
  • Near-Live Leonid Meteor Watching System
  • The Leonid Meteors - Armagh Observatory
  • Space.com: 2002 Leonid meteor shower
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day: Leonids from Leo
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day: 2001 Leonids: Meteors in Perspective
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day: A Leonid Meteor Explodes
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day: Tempel-Tuttle: The Leonid Comet
  • Leonids 2001 Meteor Gallery


  • Thursday's Classroom Corner: The 2002 Leonid Meteor Shower
  • Leonids 2002: Dopplershifted meteor echo's

    NASA Science News for November 18, 2002

    A Spaceship Among Meteors

    With millions of people watching, the International Space Station will glide over North America during the 2002 Leonid meteor storm. Some of the apparitions will be remarkably eye-catching, including "space station supernovas" over Washington DC and San Francisco.


    NASA Science News for November 16, 2002

    The Leonids TV Show

    NASA TV kicks off live coverage of the 2002 Leonid meteor storm on Monday evening, Nov. 18th. The broadcast will feature live reports from meteor watchers around the world, a toll-free telephone number for members of the public, and weird meteor sounds.


    * * * SKY & TELESCOPE's SKYWATCHER'S BULLETIN - November 12, 2002 * * *


    Despite the presence of the full Moon, amateur astronomers will be out in force to observe the grand finale of the current sequence of Leonid meteor storms. There are two predicted Leonid peaks occuring on the 19th. The first arrives over Europe at 4:00 Universal Time (UT). The second appears over North America beginning about 10:30 UT (5:30 a.m. EST, 2:30 a.m. PST). More information about the last Leonid storm for many decades to come is available at: Leonids 2002: The Last Hurrah

    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    November 14, 2002


    The early morning hours of Nov. 19 may be your last chance to see the spectacular Leonid meteor shower in its full glory, according to astronomers.

    "Even with the full moon, this year's Leonids will probably be better than any other for the next hundred years," said Dr. Don Yeomans, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "If you're ever going to see them, this might be the year to try," he said. NASA is taking advantage of the event for several research efforts around the world.

    The shower is predicted to have two peaks, each a couple of hours long, during which the most meteors can be seen. The shower's second peak, most prominent in North American skies, is expected at around 5:30 a.m. EST Nov. 19, and promises the rare spectacle of a few meteors every minute or even more. "Observers in good locations away from city lights might see a few hundred per hour. You'll only get to see the bright ones because the moonlight will wash out the ones that aren't as bright," said Yeomans. Last year, observers did not have to contend with the Moon and saw meteors at a pace of several hundred per hour.

    An earlier peak is expected over Europe and Africa the night of Nov. 18, and observers in North America might see a few grazers -- meteors skimming the top of the atmosphere -- from this first peak starting around 11:30 p.m. EST Nov. 18.

    The Leonids are grains of dust from comet Tempel-Tuttle colliding into the Earth's atmosphere. Most Leonid particles are tiny and will vaporize very high in the atmosphere due to their extreme speed (about 44 miles per second, or almost 71 km/sec), so they present no threat to people on the ground or even in airplanes. As it progresses in its 33-year orbit, the comet releases dust particles every time it comes near the Sun. Earth intersects the comet's debris trail every year in mid-November, but the intensity of each year's Leonid meteor shower depends on whether Earth ploughs through a particularly concentrated stream of dust within the broader debris trail.

    The dust that Tempel-Tuttle shed in 1866 forms the stream predicted to give Americans a good show this year. Last year, people in Asia saw the plentiful collisions within that stream. A dust stream from 1767 provided last year's peak hour of viewing in North America and will provide this year's peak hour of viewing in Europe. After 2002, Earth won't hit either of those streams again for decades to come, and is not predicted to encounter a dense Leonid stream until 2098 or 2131.

    The golden rule for watching the Leonids -- or any meteor shower -- is to be comfortable. Be sure to wrap up warmly -- a sleeping bag placed atop a lawn chair facing east is a good way to enjoy the show. Put your chair in a clear, dark place with a view of as much of the sky as possible. Don't stare at any one place -- keep your eyes moving across the sky. Most Leonids will appear as fleeting streaks of light, but watch for the bigger ones that produce fireballs and trails -- some trails will remain visible for several minutes or more.

    The Leonids get their name from the constellation where they appear to originate; the meteors will be radiating from the Sickle pattern in the constellation Leo the Lion, which will be rising out of the east-northeast sky. Don't look directly at the constellation, but at the area above and around it. And, though you don't need them to see the Leonids, a pair of binoculars could come in handy.

    Researchers think meteors might have showered the Earth with the molecules necessary for life's origin. A two-aircraft campaign, led by astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will investigate this possibility. "We are looking for clues about the diversity of comets and their impact on the chemistry of life's origin on Earth," Jenniskens said.

    "We are eager to get another chance to find clues to two puzzling questions: What material from space rains down on Earth, and what happens to the (meteor's) organic matter when it interacts with the atmosphere?" said Dr. Michael Meyer, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    On Nov. 15, a team of 42 astrobiologists from seven countries will depart from southern California's Edwards Air Force Base on a mission to Spain to observe this year's two Leonid storm peaks. The DC-8 Airborne Laboratory, operated by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., will carry high-speed cameras; a radio receiver to listen to upper atmosphere molecules; and a team of meteor observers, who will keep track of the meteor activity for satellite operators concerned about impact hazards.

    "This final deployment of the Leonid Multi-instrument Airborne Campaign program promises an important and unique database for the development of instruments targeted at in situ sampling of cometary materials and for the future definition of comet missions," said Dr. John Hillman, lead scientist for planetary astronomy at NASA Headquarters. "It is hoped that these scientific data will provide new insights for the comparative studies of comets," he said.

    Although the meteors are harmless to people, there is a slight chance that a satellite could be damaged if it was hit by a Leonid meteoroid. The meteoroids are too small to simply blow up a satellite. However, the Leonids are moving so fast they vaporize on impact, forming a cloud of electrified gas called plasma. Since plasma can carry an electric current, there is a risk that a Leonid-generated plasma cloud could cause a short circuit in a satellite, damaging sensitive electronic components.

    NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is responsible for controlling a large number of satellites for NASA and other organizations and is taking precautions to mitigate the risk posed by the Leonids. These include pointing instrument apertures away from the direction of the Leonid stream, closing the doors on instruments where possible, turning down high voltages on systems to decrease the risk of a short circuit, and positioning satellites to minimize the cross-section exposed to the Leonids.

    Minimizing the threat meteoroids pose to satellites is the second major area of NASA's Leonid research. From five key points on the globe and from the International Space Station, NASA researchers will use special cameras to scan the skies and report activity around the clock during the Leonid shower. Led by Dr. Rob Suggs of the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the research is part of a long-term goal to protect spacecraft from potentially damaging meteoroids.

    Using "night-vision" image-intensifier video systems and sky-watchers outfitted with Palm computer software developed to record visual counts, NASA engineers and astronomers will record their observations for later analysis. Another tool at Marshall's disposal is "forward-scatter radar" -- an early warning system built by Suggs, Dr. Jeff Anderson, also of Marshall's Engineering Directorate, and Dr. Bill Cooke, an astronomer at Marshall.

    "Our system is pretty simple," said Suggs. "We use an antenna and a computer-controlled shortwave receiver to listen for 67 MHz signals from distant TV stations." The transmitters are over the horizon and normally out of range. When a meteor streaks overhead, the system records a brief ping -- the echo of a TV signal bouncing off the meteor's trail. Like the image-intensified cameras, this system is capable of detecting meteors too dim to see with the unaided eye.

    The research data from the Leonids shower will be analyzed to help NASA engineers refine their forecasts for spacecraft; by better determining where, when and how the meteors will strike, NASA can improve protective measures to prevent or minimize damage to spacecraft.

    Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

    November 12, 2002

    'Catch a shooting star!'

    NASA engineers to scan for Leonid meteor shower Nov. 18-19

    From five key points on the globe and from the International Space Station, NASA researchers will use special cameras to scan the skies and report activity around the clock during the annual Leonid meteor shower Nov. 18-19.

    Sky-gazers in North America and Europe should be able to "catch" as many as one meteor every 6 to 10 seconds -- even with a full moon shining -- during the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, which occurs when Earth passes close to the orbit of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle and debris left in the comet's path.

    Led by the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the research is part of a long-term goal to protect spacecraft such as NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory from potentially damaging meteoroids.

    "Stargazers should see a great show, even though the full moon will cut visibility about 75 percent," said Dr. Rob Suggs, the Space Environments Team Lead. "For the past three years, we've had some astounding Leonid showers. However, this may be the last opportunity in our lifetimes to see a 'storm' of Leonids. Predictions lead us to believe this could be the 'grand finale' until 2133."

    Using "night-vision" image intensifier video systems and sky-watchers outfitted with Palm computer software developed to record visual counts, NASA engineers and astronomers will record their observations for later analysis.

    Despite what their name suggests, "shooting stars" are not stars at all; they are meteors. Meteors are produced when bits of cometary or asteroidal debris in space, usually between the size of a sand grain and a pebble, enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, creating a brief -- usually white -- streak of light.

    The Leonids were named such because they appear to radiate out of the constellation Leo. The material crossing Earth's path this year was ejected from the Comet Tempel-Tuttle at least 100 years ago. Meteor viewers in the United States, for example, will see material ejected from the comet in 1866.

    NASA engineers have provided meteor shower rates for many cities around the world through the NASA Web site: www.SpaceWeather.com sponsored by Science@NASA

    Astronomer Mitzi Adams of the Marshall Center also will provide updates Nov. 18 on the progress of the Leonids to SpaceWeather.com .

    NASA's concern, however, isn't the view. Even though today's satellites are engineered to withstand a smattering of meteoroid strikes, by determining where, when and how the meteors will strike, NASA can take protective measures to prevent or minimize damage to spacecraft.

    Because the stream from Tempel-Tuttle hits the Earth almost head-on, the Leonids are among the fastest meteors known -- entering the Earth's atmosphere at 44 miles per second.

    Since the Chandra Observatory must travel through the Leonid debris field, controllers at its Operations Control Center in Cambridge, Mass., will make sure the satellite is pointed in the exact opposite direction as the incoming meteors. They will angle the solar arrays to protect the sensitive back of the arrays and minimize the surface area presented to the meteor direction.

    Protective measures can range from turning a satellite so it faces the direction of minimal exposed surface area, to shutting down a spacecraft's electronic operations until the storm has passed.

    "When a meteoroid hits a satellite, it can heat the impact site to thousands of degrees Kelvin -- rivaling the surface temperature of the Sun," Suggs said. "Usually the entire meteoroid is vaporized along with a tiny bit of the spacecraft."

    Considering that meteors are so small, their potential for damage can be surprising when their speed is considered.

    "They're small, but they move very fast -- about 45 miles per second (71 kilometers per second)," said Dr. Bill Cooke, an astronomer at the Marshall Center.

    Cooke says the research data from the Leonid shower will be analyzed to help NASA engineers refine their engineering forecasts for spacecraft.

    According to Cooke, sky-gazers could see up to 600 meteors per hour if they are away from city lights and the sky is clear. In the Eastern United States, the shower is predicted to peak near dawn, while in the Western United States, it is expected to peak around 2:30 a.m. PST. However, the "show" will start Nov. 18 about 10:53 EST with the Leonid "grazers" -- meteors not dropping into the Earth's atmosphere, but instead grazing the atmosphere. Grazers appear as reddish meteors that advance east to west across a large part of the sky.

    The NASA researchers will monitor the storm from five locations, each selected based on meteor forecasts and the area's climate. Sites include Huntsville, Ala.; Calar Alto Observatory in southern Spain; Teide Observatory in the Canary Islands; Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico; and Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona.

    Another tool at Marshall's disposal is "forward-scatter radar" -- an early warning system built by Suggs, Cooke and Dr. Jeff Anderson, also of Marshall's Engineering Directorate.

    "Our system is pretty simple," said Suggs. "We use an antenna and computer-controlled short-wave receiver to listen for 67 MHz signals from distant TV stations."

    The transmitters are over the horizon and normally out of range. When a meteor streaks overhead, the system records a brief ping -- the echo of a TV signal bouncing off the meteor's trail. Like the image-intensified cameras, this system is capable of detecting meteors too dim to see with the unaided eye.

    The Marshall Center has also provided Leonid forecast information to operators of spacecraft such as Chandra to help prepare for a meteor shower. "By comparing the meteor shower predictions to the actual meteor counts, we are laying the groundwork to improve forecasts in the future," said Suggs.

    How to view Leonids:

    The golden rule to watching the Leonids -- or any meteor shower -- is to be comfortable, according to Cooke and Suggs. Be sure to wrap up warmly -- a sleeping bag placed atop a lawn chair facing east is a good way to enjoy the show. Put your chair in a clear, dark place with a view of as much of the sky as possible. Don't stare at any one place -- keep your eyes moving across the sky. Watch for fireballs and streaks -- some will remain visible for several minutes or more. The meteors will be radiating from the Sickle of Leo that will be rising out of the east-northeast sky. Don't look directly at the constellation, but at the area above and around it. And, though you don't need them to see the Leonids, a pair of binoculars could come in handy.


    14 November 2002

    ESA's shortcut to a comet

    Night owls across Europe, get ready. On the night of 18-19 November 2002, you may see a spectacular sky show. As tiny particles in Comet 55/P Tempel-Tuttle's tail enter Earth's atmosphere, they will pierce through it, heating up, and finally explode. Welcome to one of the most spectacular natural fireworks displays of the year: a meteor shower called the Leonids.

    Read more

    Leonids in previous years:

  • Leonids 2001: news and observations
  • Leonids 2000: observerations
  • Leonids 2000
  • Leonids 1999: observerations
  • Leonids 1999
  • Leonids 1999 warning for orbiting spacraft
  • Leonids 1998: observations
  • Leonids 1998

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