Article: October 18, 2002 -- NASA Researchers Seek Astrobiology Insights on the Leonid Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign
By: David Lamb. This November, Peter Jenniskens will again be leading a NASA team to explore the 2002 Leonid meteor storm from high altitudes.
Leonid Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign (MAC) news at http://leonid.arc.nasa.gov/
How best to view the November 2002 Leonid meteor storm
by Dr. PeterJenniskens (SETI Institute)
[Article from the Newsletter of the
International Dark Sky Association
Last November's spectacular Leonid storm was for many a painful reminder of how much city lights have isolated us from the universe around us. In the USA's San Francisco Bay area, thousands of people clogged the roads leading away from city lights and up to the highest hills at Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mount Diablo, Henry Coe State Park, and Fremont Peak Observatory.
Fortunately, the storm lived up to expectations and many meteors could be seen even from a spot in traffic jam. just the same, many viewers dreamed of how fantastic it could have been if the sky had been really dark.
Since the Leonids peak every 33 years, this coming November might be our last chance in a lifetime to see a meteor storm. The lion will roar once more on November 19, when I predict rates over the USA will increase to between 3,000 and 7,000 meteors per hour at around 10:36 Universal Time (2:36 am Pacific Time). That is two to four times more intense than last November! A second storm is expected over Western Europe, with rates between 3,000 and 5,000 meteors per hour.
This year, those living in the countryside will get first-hand experience of how city lights hinder the enjoyment of astronomy for the rest of us. Thanks to a full moon, rates will be diminished by at least a factor of two.
City dwellers will greatly benefit from traveling to an rural area to view this year's storm. The presence of natural and artificial light is not the only factor that will determine how many meteors you see. In a densely populated urban area there is much more dust in the atmosphere, which scatters light and compounds the problem.
By traveling away from the city, and to a higher location, you escape not just the artificial lights, but the dust as well. With less dust to scatter light, the effect of the full moon can be expected to diminish considerably. In fact, away from the city the view will be quite spectacular-even more so if you can observe the sky with the moon hidden from direct view.
As in years past, I'm working to organize an airborne mission with fellow researchers to observe the storm from above clouds and water vapor and away from city lights. Our mission web site at http: //Ieonid.arc.nasa.gov/ offers a Java applet that shows what rates to expect from your location. It nicely demonstrates the change in rates between viewing from downtown, the suburbs, the countryside, or best, in the mountains.
The upcoming Leonid storm will give us another excellent opportunity to introduce the public to the sky, as well as a chance to introduce people to the idea that improperly designed or installed lights diminish our view of the sky.
[end Jenniskens article]
The Leonids are the debris of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years or so, the comet returns to the inner solar system and releases material that forms into a new dust trail. In 2002 November the Earth will pass near the trails released at the 1866 and1767 returns, i.e. 4 revolutions and 7 revolutions of the comet ago. The Earth's passage right through the centre of trails is associated with the most spectacular meteor displays (studies show that, as well as how close to the centre of the trail you are, the strength of the display also depends on how far along a trail's length you are).
Page web-posted by Alan Gould--Lawrence Hall of Science