A Brief Summary of What Transpired
for the 2001 Leonid Meteor Shower

The last Leonid "super storm" transpired in 1966 when over 100,000 meteors per hour were seen at one point in the eastern part of the United States. The 33-year cycle suggested that 1999 would be spectacular. A storm (defined as having an hourly rate of more than 1,000 meteors at the peak) did occur in 1999 but the intensity was considerably less than figures predicted by astronomers: Viewers saw about 2,500 meteors per hour at the peak under ideal conditions.

Although Leonid-meteor prediction methods are improving, accurate forecasting has been difficult, and different scientific groups produce widely varying figures for both the intensity and the optimal time for observations. However, several astronomers did quite well in forecasting what would transpire in 2001.

This year before dawn on November 18, a storm took place over North America. Several thousand meteors per hour were seen during a period lasting a little more than an hour. Fireballs (meteors that appear as a disk typically 1/4 to 3/4 the size of the Moon) highlighted the show. Some even broke up or exploded. Viewing was also good over China and Australia. The peak intensity took place around 11:00 UT (6:00 am EST) and approximately matched that of the 1999 Leonids. In 1999, however, one had to be in northern Africa, southern Europe or the Middle East to see the storm.

Some astronomers predict that 2002 will also be a good year. Unfortunately, a full Moon will interfere with observing. In a few years, the Leonids will be out of its 33-year cycle maximum and storms will be quite unlikely.

If you enjoy watching meteors, the most reliable display is the Perseid meteor shower in the second week of August.

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