Typical Leonid night for me really. I've never had much luck with this most spectacular - every 33 years or so - of meteor showers. There's always a full moon, or the weather is bad, or the sharp maximum has failed to coincide with UK darkness. The fact that the best viewing for the shower. is found in the early morning hours doesn't help either.
In fact I've barely ever seen any.
Which is a pity, because this shower is a historic one indeed. Associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 33 or so years, spectacular meteor storms can occur in years when the comet is at perihelion. In 1833, meteors fell from the sky like rain, and some (possibly exaggerated) estimates put the Leonid count at 100,000 per hour.
|A later (1889) depiction of the 1833 storm, in a 7th Day Adventist book.|
Hopes were high for the years around the 1999 Tempel-Tuttle perihelion, and indeed around 1000 meteors an hour were seen in these years, although not by me as the weather was rotten every single damn and dratted year. Since then, with the comet now gone, rates have dwindled.
However, as I had the pleasant surprise of going outside at midnight and finding the sky crystal clear, I was still hopeful of seeing a few meteors. As it happened I saw exactly one Leonid, a faint specimen racing through the constellation of Auriga. A non-Leonid sporadic, rather brighter too, appeared through Ursa Major.
So my 30 minute or so watch went mostly unrewarded in meteor terms, but it was hardly wasted. The sky was beautifully clear, and I could even see one of the Auriga open clusters with my naked eye, which I've never done before. Perseus' sword handle was also plain, and the milky way ghosted across the zenith in Cassiopeia.
So you see, time under a clear sky is always valuable. Even if you can't find find what you might have been looking for, there's always something to see.
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