The Lion Tamer – Leonid Meteor Shower 2010

by Tammy Plotner on November 16, 2010

Are you ready to walk into the lion’s cage? Then break out your favorite skywatching gear because the 2010 Leonid meteor shower is underway…

In the pre-dawn hours on the mornings of November 17 and November 18, the offspring of Comet Temple/Tuttle will be flashing through our atmosphere and just taunting you to test your meteor watching skills against bright skies. Although the phat Moon will greatly interfere with fainter meteor trails, don’t let that stop you from enjoying your monring coffee with the sparkling “cubs” that will be shooting out from the constellation of Leo.

Where? For all observers the constellation of Leo is along the ecliptic plane and will be near its peak height during best viewing times. When? Because of the Moon, just a couple of hours before local dawn is the best time to watch. Why? Read on!

Although it has been a couple of years since Temple/Tuttle was at perihelion, don’t forget that meteor showers are wonderfully unpredictable and the Leonids are sure to please with fall rate of around 20 (average) per hour. Who knows what surprises it may bring! Each time the comet swings around our Sun it loses some of its material in the debris trail. Of course, we all know that is the source of a meteor shower, but what we don’t know is just how much debris was shed and where it may lay.

As our Earth passes through the dusty matter, it may encounter a place where the comet let loose with a large amount of its payload – or it may pass through an area where the “comet stuff” is thin. We might even pass through an area which produces an exciting “meteor storm” like the Leonids produced in 1883! For those in the know, the Leonid meteor shower also made a rather incredible appearance in 1866 and 1867 – dumping up to 1000 (not a typo, folks) shooting stars recorded even with a Moon present! It erupted again in 1966 and in 1998 and produced 3000 (yep. 3000!) video recorded meteors during the years of 2001 and 2002. But remember, human eyes may only be able to detect just a few…

And I ain’t lion!

Photo Courtesy of Stardate.org, Texas University

About 

Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

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