2015 Leonid Meteor Shower
Tuesday night, November 17th and overnight into the 18th, the annual Leonid Meteor Shower will peak. Producing upwards of 15 meteors per hour, the Leonid shower will put on a meager, yet notable display of shooting stars and often confuses casual sky watchers that expect a much more active meteor display.
Resulting from Earth passing through a debris field left behind by comet 55P Tempel-Tuttle, the Leonid Meteor Shower has an erroneous reputation of producing the best display of the year. This reputation comes from a solid history of producing meteor storms, which happen on a 30 year interval when Earth passes through very dense streams along the comet's debris field. The Leonid storms of 1833, 1866, 1966, and 2001 were legendary, producing upwards of 3,600 meteors per hour! Outside of the 30 year cycle, the Leonid shower is rather dull comparatively and certainly not the best shower of the year. But everybody remembers that amazing 2001 display.
The Leonids are still a shower to get out and watch. Producing a modest 15 meteors per hour, watchers can expect the occasional bright meteor that leaves behind a persistent train, which are visible trails left in the sky after the meteor passes that slowly dissipate. Since the 33% waxing crescent Moon will set before 10:00 p.m. on the 17th, we are in for excellent meteor watching conditions. For best viewing, set out after midnight with a reclining lawn chair and blanket. Lay down with your feet towards the East and look at the zenith (top of the sky). Relax and enjoy the starscape with meteors streaking by.
As with any meteor shower, the Leonids present a great photo op! Setup your camera on a tripod with an intervalometer, expose the sky for 30 seconds on a fast interval. Set your ISO to a relatively mid-to-high setting (this will vary based on your camera) and keep your aperture wide open or stopped down one stop to reduce distortions at the edge of your field. If you catch a meteor in your shot, post it on the Frosty Drew Observatory Facebook page and we'll share it on our time line.
Happy meteor hunting!