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The Leonids in Anza-Borrego State Desert, California

by Roger Herzler


The Leonid meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the remants of Comet Tempel-Tuttle's tail. The term "Leonid" refers to the fact that the meteors seem to originate from the constellation Leo (this is also known as the radiant). I don't have a frame of reference to judge how good the Leonid meteor shower was since this is my first one, but take my observations and compare them to your own experiences. Photos of the shower are available here: Leonid1 ~ Leonid2 ~ Leonid3.

Time/Date: 0030-0400 PST (0830-1200 UT), November 17th, 1998.

Location: Anza-Borrego State Desert in Little Blair Valley, California, at approximately 3315'N 11624'W

Weather Conditions: Good upon arrival at 1230 PST, but began to soften up with high cirrus clouds over most of the sky around 0145 PST. By 0230 PST certain portions of the sky were completely obscured with cloud cover blocking any starlight, most notably occurring in the south-southeast. Temperature was (guessed) estimated to be 45F. Winds were gusty from the south-southwest, sometimes picking up dust, sand and debris. Peak winds occurred from about 0200-0300 PST.

Meteor Activity: Meteor activity was generally good; even upon arrival we were immediately treated to a nice green fireball in the south-southeast direction. Peak activities of visible meteors occurred at the rate of 7 to 10+ per minute. Lulls in activity brought on 0-3 meteors a minute. Lulls of 0 meteors observed lasted for up to approximately 10 minutes at a time. Peak activity durations seemed to be around 5 minutes or less. Bright fireballs were generally occurring at the rate of 3 to 5 observed every 3 minutes during peak times. Most fireballs had little or no contrails, but some had contrails lasting as long as 30 seconds to a minute. Fireball coloration was green to light blue and some were bright enough to light up the areas underneath them like a flashbulb, even causing shadows. Magnitudes (brightness) for meteors ranged from +3 to -4 or -5. Areas of higher meteor activity seemed to be the north-northwest, particularly after 0300 PST, but this observation could have been made due to the better sky clarity in this direction throughout the night. The radiant in Leo was obvious for most of the meteors observed. All sections of the sky, including the zenith, experienced meteor activity to include bright fireballs. Once thing of interest was the effect of meteor activity behind the cloud cover. It produced an interesting glow behind the clouds.

Summary: All in all it was a positive experience. It was certainly not a meteor storm, but good meteor activity was present throughout the night and was quite enjoyable. I had taken my 4.5" newtonian telescope with if the clouds would have only relented during the lulls...

Clear skies,


P.S. Here are some cool Leonid Meteor Shower Links (they will open in a new browser window):

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