It's Time Again for the Leonids!
There have been predictions that this year's Leonid meteor shower could turn out to be one of the most spectacular sky events of the 21st century. The peak of this meteor shower should occur in the early morning hours of November 18, 2001 (the true peak should be between 4-6am EST). This year's Leonid shower could even reach meteor storm status!
News story originally written on November 14, 2001
Viewers across the United States are in the perfect position to see what promises to be a grand show! "During the peak, people viewing under clear and dark skies could see meteors shooting across the sky at a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 per hour, with flurries of one meteor per second at the peak of the storm," says Robert Naeye, Editor of Mercury magazine, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). "During a typical Leonid meteor shower, an experienced observer might see about 10 to 15 meteors per hour. But during a storm, that rate climbs to 1,000 or more meteors per hour," says Naeye. "This year's Leonid storm might peak at a rate of up to 2,000 per hour, although it's difficult to pin down a precise number. The rates will rise and fall over a period of two hours."
The meteors in the Leonids shower are pieces of the comet Temple-Tuttle. The comet's orbit brings it near the sun every 33 years. When it approaches perihelion, pieces of it break away. The debris then spreads through the comet's orbit. We see the debris as meteors when the Earth passes through the comet's orbit, as it will on November 18th.The name "Leonids" comes from the constellation Leo. If you trace the path of the meteors during any Leonid meteor shower, they appear to originate from a point within the constellation. This point is called the radiant because the meteors seem to radiate from it.
Observers in eastern Asia and the Western Pacific will also be able to see the storm. To find out when meteor shower activity will peak in your area, see NASA's Leonid Activity Estimator.
For much more information, please see this comprehensive article published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.