Astronomy Information: Leonid Meteor Shower Storm

What are leonid meteor storms, when were they discovered and how to watch for them. Tips on viewing and peak observation times.

Alexander Von Humboldt was the first person to witness the Leonid Meteor Shower in 1799. He was in South America during his exploration of the Orinoco when he first saw the rain of meteors coming from the sky. It was a minor part of his journals but he was the first person to officially record documentation on seeing this storm. In 1833 scientists first viewed the Leonid meteor storm. That event launched the research into the Leonids.

A Meteor is a small particle of space dust that, while going around the Sun, enters the Earth's atmosphere. When these particles of dust enter the atmosphere, they head up rapidly causing them to glow brightly. That is what gives these dust particles the "shooting star" look. Shooting and falling stars are actually meteors that are entering the atmosphere. Not all meteors enter the atmosphere. Some just graze the surface which makes the meteors train seem longer. (The train is the tail or streak of light that follows the meteor) The Leonid meteor storm occurs every November 17-18 as the Earth passes the orbit of comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years this comet becomes visible because the comet is closer to the Earth. During this time there are more meteors than usual. There are sometimes thousands of meteors per hour. Most meteors are a result of a passing comet. The heat from the sun causes the comet to melt and particles come off in large volume causing a storm.

To observe this meteor shower and if you live close to an urban area, you will need to go to a place where there is less light pollution. Most of the meteors will be dimmer so you may miss seeing the majority of the storm if the area you are viewing them in is too light. Going out to the rural areas or in national or state parks that are away from bright lights are the best for viewing. Make sure you dress accordingly because in a lot of regions November can be very cold. The time that Leonids can be viewed is in the early morning hours usually between 11:30 PM and dawn. The best viewing position is to sit reclined in a lounge chair or on the ground while facing east because that is the direction the meteors tend to radiate from. They radiate from the constellation Leo, thus the name Leonids.

Some people are afraid of getting hit with some of the incoming meteors. The particles that fall through the atmosphere are nothing to worry about because they burn up as they enter the atmosphere and almost never reach the planet surface. Satellites and other instruments that orbit the earth can be affected by it because these particles move so quickly that they can do damage as they hit. Even though the particles are as small as a grain of sand, they hit at such a force that they could damage sensitive equipment. Spacecraft's such as the Space shuttle can sustain possibly damage during the storms, so they make sure they schedule flights around this and other meteor storms.

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