The Leonid meteor shower will be
making its annual appearance in the California skies in mid-November.
Astronomers expect the shower to begin around 11:15 p.m. on November 16 and to
peak a few hours later, about 1:00 a.m. on November 17.
The shower should
begin and peak again the following night at about the same times.
expect the Leonids to put on a good show.

“If the predictions hold true, you should be able to see several dozen
meteors per hour around midnight on November 17 and November 18,” says
Robert Naeye, editor of “Mercury” magazine, which is published in
San Francisco by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP).
“The Leonid
meteors are particularly beautiful because they can leave long glowing trails
that can persist for several minutes.
These trails look great in binoculars.”

“Meteor showers are such wonderful, free entertainment,” says
Dr. James White, the executive director of the ASP.
“All you need is a clear
dark sky, a comfortable chair, and maybe a thermos of coffee or hot

For the best views, you should get out and away from city lights.
White stresses you can still experience the event even from a bright
metropolitan area.
“Make sure there are no bright lights obstructing your
Try to use a tree or building to block the Moon.
No matter what
direction you look, you should be able to see Leonids shooting across the
The key, says White, is to pick the direction that provides the darkest
and least obstructed view of the sky and stick with it.
“People miss many
meteors during a shower by trying to watch the entire sky.
Just sit, relax,
and enjoy the show.”

When you see meteors, also known as shooting stars, you are seeing tiny
space rocks burning up in the atmosphere at altitudes of 55 to 70 miles.
typical Leonid meteor is about the size of a grain of sand to a pebble when it
slams into Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of nearly 160,000 miles per hour.
Occasionally, an extremely bright meteor called a fireball will race across
the sky.
A typical fireball is about the size of a basketball when it enters
the atmosphere.

This year’s Leonid meteor shower is really two showers in one, says
astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens of NASA’s Ames Research Center in
Moffett Field, California.
The Leonid meteors come from debris left behind by
Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
When the comet comes close to the Sun every 33 years,
some of the dust and ice gets blown off, forming a trail.
The Leonid meteor
shower occurs when Earth goes through one of these trails.

According to Jenniskens, the shower on November 16 – 17 will be from
Comet Tempel-Tuttle’s 1932 passage through the inner Solar System.
November 17 – 18 shower will be from the comet’s 1866 passage.
“If the sky is
clear, it will be a really nice event for people to go out and see,” says
“It will be interesting to see which of the two nights is

As good as the Leonids could be this year, the Leonids will probably be
even better in 2001 and 2002.
The Moon’s glare won’t interfere as much, and
Earth might go through particularly dense clumps of comet debris.
This might
lead to a meteor storm, an intense shower during which an observer can see
1,000 or more meteors per hour.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the nation’s oldest and largest
general astronomy society.
Founded in 1889, the ASP has grown into an
international society.
Its membership is spread over all 50 states and
70 countries and includes professional and amateur astronomers, science
educators, and the general public.
The ASP publishes “Mercury,” a teachers’
newsletter called “Universe in a Classroom,” and a technical journal.