2009 Leonid Meteor Shower & the Great Meteor Storm of 1833
November 13, 2009
It’s Friday the 13th and while we should probably have a photo of a black cat breaking a mirror or something, we’re going to look ahead to next week when the Leonid meteor shower peaks on Tuesday, November 17th. According to NASA:
If forecasters are correct, the shower should produce a mild but pretty sprinkling of meteors over North America followed by a more intense outburst over Asia. The phase of the Moon will be new, setting the stage for what could be one of the best Leonid showers in years.
“We’re predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas, and as many as 200 to 300 per hour over Asia,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “Our forecast is in good accord with independent theoretical work by other astronomers.”
Leonids are bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years the comet visits the inner solar system and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake. Many of these streams have drifted across the November portion of Earth’s orbit. Whenever we hit one, meteors come flying out of the constellation Leo.
While it will probably be a pretty good meteor shower, it will have nothing on 1833, as this first-hand account of Great Leonid Meteor Storm of 1833 by Elder Samuel Rogers explains:
We had but little rest that night, for, before three o’clock in the morning, we were all aroused from our slumbers, making preparation for an early start. Some one, on looking out of the window, observed that it was almost broad daylight. “That can not be,” another answered, “For it is scarcely three o’clock.” “I can’t help what the clock says,” replied the first speaker, “my eyes can not deceive me; it is almost broad daylight –look for yourselves.”
After this little altercation, some one went to the door for the purpose of settling the question. Fortunately, there was not a cloud in the heavens; so by a glance, all was settled. I heard one of the children cry out, in a voice expressive of alarm: “Come to the door, father, the world is surely coming to an end.” Another exclaimed: “See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!” These cries brought us all into the open yard, to gaze upon the grandest and most beautiful scene my eyes have ever beheld. It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds.
Some of those wandering stars seemed as large as the full moon, or nearly so, and in some cases they appeared to dash at a rapid rate across the general course of the main body of meteors, leaving in their track a bluish light, which gathered into a thin cloud not unlike a puff of smoke from a tobacco-pipe. Some of the meteors were so bright that they were visible for some time after day had fairly dawned. Imagine large snowflakes drifting over your head, so near you that you can distinguish them, one from the other, and yet so thick in the air as to almost obscure the sky; then imagine each snowflake to be a meteor, leaving behind it a tail like a little comet; these meteors of all sizes, from that of a drop of water to that of a great star, having the size of the full moon in appearance: and you may then have some faint idea of this wonderful scene.
Be sure to check this out bigger or in Matthew’s My Photographic Love Affair slideshow (view the set). You might also enjoy on meteoric: 2009 Leonid Shower & the sound of meteors from Michigan in Pictures.