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Leonid meteors put on a record show 50 years ago

November 17, 2016 - SPACE

The peak date for the 2016 Leonid meteor shower falls on the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest meteor storms in history, a shower of thousands of meteors per minute during a span of 15 minutes. The peak date in 2016 is likely to disappoint meteor watchers.

The EarthSky publication notes that on the momentous 1966 night, the Leonids briefly fell like rain. Some who witnessed the meteor storm said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground, so strong was the impression of Earth plowing along through space, fording the meteoroid stream.

The Leonids show lasts for much of the month and will be best just before dawn on Nov 17. EarthSky predicts a shower of just 10-15 meteors per hour and warns that moonlight will spoil the show.

The Leonids occur when the Earth passes through the debris left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet takes about 33 years to make one orbit around the Sun.

Another distinction of the Leonids, which radiate from the constellation Leo the Lion, is that they can be seen from both hemispheres.

Peak dates are derived from data published in the Observer's Handbook by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar.

EarthSky's meteor shower guide for 2016 (EarthSky Org. Aug 16)

History of Leonids (NASA)

Date written/update: 2016-09-07