Leonids Meteor Shower

The Leonids is a meteor shower that is related to the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the Comet Tempel-Tuttle moves across the universe it leaves debris in its path. Every November, Earth moves through this path of debris and it creates a meteor shower. This meteor shower is called the Leonids because the shower can be seen close to the constellation Leo.



Leonids Meteor ShowerThe Leonids were first reported in 1833. The meteor shower was more than a shower – it was a storm. Hundreds of thousands of meteors occurred in an hour. The entire United States could see the shower. Native Americans still tell stories of the Leonid in 1833 and slaves marked the event. People in Independence, Missouri decided that the shower was a sign that Mormons should not live in the area. Scientist Denison Olmsted studied the shower and published his findings in the January 1834 issure of the American Journal of Science and Arts. He reported that the shower could only be seen in the United States near the constellation Leo. The meteors seemed to come right from the constellation. In 1866, scientists discovered the Comet Tempel-Tuttle and concluded that the Leonids Meteor Shower occurred because of this comet. In 1899, the meteor shower did not occur and most thought that the comet had dried up.


The Leonids reappeared in 1966. Scientists decided to investigate further and found that the Leonids have occurred since 900AD. In 1981, scientist Donald K. Yeomans tracked the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. He published a graph of the orbit in the magazine Sky and Telescope in 1996. The next large meteor shower was scheduled to occur in 1998. That year, scientist and observers were ready for the show. Scientists studied the shower's effect on the moon that year. Findings showed that the shower did not impact the moon. Faculty at Kazan University decided to try to predict when meteor showers would occur and used the Leonids to create these predictions. They were successful in predicting meteor showers in 1999, 2000 and 2001.


The Leonids in 2000, 2001 and 2002 produced up to 3,000 meteors per hour. In 2000, the moon was in the direct line of fire and many meteors bounced off the moon causing a spectacular dust cloud. This is speculated to be what occurred during the great Leonid shower of 1833. It will be decades before another shower like the one in 1833. Today, many scientists are studying the effects of pressure, the Yarkovsky effect and the Poynting-Robertson effect on the meteors.

When can I see the Leonid Meteor Shower?

The Leonid Meteor Shower occurs each year from November 10 through November 22. The days can vary from year to year as the exact dates of the shower are hard to predict.

Where should I look to see the Leonid Meteor Shower?Leo

To view the Leonid Meteor Shower, look at the constellation Leo which is located in the northern sky between the constellations Cancer in the west and Virgo in the east.

What can I expect to see?

When a comet flies through the universe, it loses chunks of frozen gasses. These gases will evaporate as they get close to the sun. When the Earth hits these gases, they are moving at a speed of 72 km/s. This creates huge fireballs. One can expect to see a few meteorites each minute and around 1,000 per hour. On average, 12 tons of gasses and particles will hit the earth.

The song "Stars Fell on Alabama" which was written by Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish in 1934. It is about the 1833 Leonid Meteor Shower. Here are the lyrics:

We lived our little drama,
We kissed in a field of white,
And the stars fell on Alabama,
Last night.
I can't forget the glamor,
Your eyes held a tender light,
And stars fell on Alabama,
Last night.
I never planned in my imagination,
A situation - so heavenly,
A fairy land where no one else could enter,
And the center - just you and me.
My heart beat like a hammer,
My arms would around you tight,
And the stars fell on Alabama,
Last night.

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