If you like keeping track of somewhat obscure meteor showers, tonight will be one of your best opportunities to spot the Delta Leonids. What’s the history of these meteors and when and where do you look? Let’s go outside and find out…
The Delta Leonids aren’t ancient and first came to attention during the early 20th century when W. F. Denning first made record of them in 1911. They were described as slow, with trains – but 16 independent observers report one of them as being at least six times as bright as the planet Venus. At the time, the fall rate was an average of 7 per hour.
Studies continued in 1924 and 1930 as scientists endeavored to pinpoint a radiant and an orbital stream. The results were rather inconclusive and the validity of the stream left to speculation. Are they Delta Leonids? Or the precursors of the Beta stream? From 1961 to 1965 a radio echo survey was employed and the results showed Earth passing through the stream between February 9th to March 12th. After several years of observation, the Western Australia Meteor Section has provided the most positive conculsions to date. While the stream cannot be attributed to any particular comet orbit, it does exist and peaks on (or about) February 26th.
If you’re out and about tonight, keep watch around the constellation of Leo… it will be relatively high in the sky around 10-11:00 pm local time. You’ll find its signature “backwards question mark” asterism along the ecliptic plane – the imaginary path the Sun and Moon take across the sky. With a typical magnitude of 2.8, these slow moving travellers will stand out against a fainter backdrop of stars. However, don’t expect to see a huge amount of activity, because the fall rate only averages about 5 per hour.
So why bother? It won’t hurt to keep an eye on the sky if you’re out walking your dog, or perhaps enjoying social activities which take you out to your car. The Delta Leonids are a temporary meteor stream and won’t be around forever. Catch ’em while you can!
Meteor Photo Credit: Yukihiro Kida/NASA Science
Tammy was 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.
(Tammy passed away in early 2015… she will be missed)