Reports coming from south west Ireland over the weekend in the news media indicate that a bright meteor possibly broke up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere early on Friday morning. For more information, check out the BBC News report where local expert at the Armagh Observatory, Apostolos Christou, spoke to the news about it.
This year’s annual display of the Leonid meteor shower occurs from 10th to 21st November, with the broad peak of activity occurring during 17th and 18th.
The Leonids peak on the night of the 17th with a ZHR of 15. The radiant is visible from midnight with the best conditions after the moon has set in the West.
Leonids travel at very high speeds through our atmosphere, at up to about 160,000 miles per hour, and many leave lasting glows known as persistent trains.
Weather permitting, observers should make themselves comfortable in a dark site away from artificial lights, and scan the area of sky from the north-west to east. At this time of year, you should of course wrap-up well in several layers of warm clothing to ward off the cold.
Every year roughly between November 15th and 19th, the Earth meets a stream of ancient debris, leading to the annual meteor shower visible in the early morning hours high in the northeast after midnight between those dates. The cometary dust particles move in very similar orbits and the resulting meteor shower appears to radiate from a point in the constellation Leo, hence the term Leonids.
The Leonids emanate from the trail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle which swings past the Sun approximately every 33 years, and during each close approach it emits a dense stream of dust and small particles. Over time, these dust trails extend along the whole length of the comet’s orbit, but the trails remain very narrow and concentrated in space taking hundreds of years to spread out. Comet Temple-Tuttle revolves around the Sun in the opposite direction to the Earth, so when the Earth encounters the trails of particles, they enter the atmosphere at very high speeds, about 160,000 mph. Most of the dust grains are very small, like grains of sand, and vaporise on entry in the first few seconds at heights of around 60 miles.
Those who wish to try for the Leonids are advised to find clear, dark site, wrap up well with several layers of warm clothing, a flask of tea/coffee/soup, and recline in a comfortable chair, or use something like a sleeping bag on top of a plastic ground sheet, and this way you won’t miss any. If other observers are there also, make sure they know just where you are in order to avoid accidents!