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Every time a comet passes by the Sun, part of the comet vaporizes and is shed off as debris. This debris forms a stream that follows the comet’s trajectory. If the Earth happens to pass through this stream, the debris enters our planet’s atmosphere. They then ignite and are seen as meteor showers.
Comet Tempel-Tuttle’s orbit almost intersects the Earth’s. That is why streams of debris coming from the comet easily interact with our planet. The high density of the debris or meteoroids is the reason why the Leonid meteor shower is one of the most magnificent showers we observe on a yearly basis.
The superlative storm of 1833 is one of the most spectacular in recorded history. Estimates are putting the shower rate at more than 100,000 meteors per hour. Spectacular Leonid storms were also observed in 1866, 1867, 1996, and 1998.
As the 1998 event was approaching, airborne observations were arranged so as to implement the modern observing techniques designed by NASA Ames Research Center’s Peter Jenkins. As an offshoot, magnificent images were captured in 1999, 2001, and 2002.
Meteor showers don’t get their names from their parent body, like Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Instead, each meteor shower is named after the constellation from where they are perceived to be coming from as viewed on Earth. This apparent point of origin is known as the shower’s radiant. For example, since the Leonid Meteor Shower appears to be coming from the constellation Leo, Leo is its radiant and hence the name ‘(Leo)nid’.
The Leonid meteor shower can be seen yearly every November. This year, the shower is expected to peak in a 1 hour duration on November 17, 2009.
The great thing about meteor showers is that you can appreciate their beauty even without a telescope. Just look for a dark open field far from all the city glow. A public park with a vast track of land will usually suffice. For as long as the sky has minimal to zero cloud cover and especially if there is no moon, it will be difficult not to spot them.
Allow us to share previous announcements here at Universe Today regarding the Leonid Meteor Shower:
There’s a nifty tool from NASA that will calculate the shower rate for a given location and date. You may even choose the name of the shower, e.g. Leonids, Perseids, Geminids, Orionids, and so on.
More about the Leonid Meteor Shower at NASA.
Tired eyes? Let your ears help you learn for a change. Here are some episodes fromAstronomy Cast that just might suit your taste: