2001 Leonid Meteor Storm


The Leonids meteor shower is among the most anticipated annual celestial events. Each year around November 16-18, Earth passes through the debris stream left in the wake of comet Tempel-Tuttle. This stream of comet material is mostly composed of dust-sized meteoroids, which slam into Earth's atmosphere like bugs hitting the windshield of a speeding car. Meteoroids as small as a grain of sand can produce meteors bright enough to be seen against a dark country sky.

Normally, this meteor shower produces about 15 meteors per hour. However about every 33 years, the Leonids roar and the rate increases dramatically to 1,000 meteors per hour or more. Such an event is called a meteor storm. The 1966 Leonid storm produced an incredible 150,000 meteors per hour at its peak. People observed as many as 40 meteors a second!

Until the late-20th Century, predicting the peak time and intensity level for a meteor shower has been more art than science. However, advances in computer modelling of comet debris streams have resulted in more accurate forecasts since the late 1990's. Astronomers predicted three peaks for the 2001 Leonid meteor shower, including a possible meteor storm for observers in North America.

Early on the morning or November 18, 2001 observers in the desert southwest were treated to a spectacular meteor storm. During the peak of activity, meteors appeared every one or two seconds over a sustained period for a rate of 2,000 meteors per hour. Bursts of multiple meteors were common. One minute-long burst produced meteors at a rate of 7,200 meteors per hour! Fortunately, a few of the 65 exposures I shot came out. They are presented below for your enjoyment.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the full sized images.

Leonid photo #1
Fireball through the Big Dipper
Leonid photo #2
Another fireball through the Dipper
Leonid photo #3
Leonid through Cassiopeia
Leonid photo #4
Meteor train in Cassiopeia

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Revised: February 11, 2002 [WDF]