What's New?

Bad Astronomy

BA Blog
Q & BA
Bulletin Board

Bitesize Astronomy
Bad Astro Store
Mad Science
Fun Stuff
Site Info

Search the site
Powered by Google

- Universe Today
- The Nine Planets
- Mystery Investigators
- Slacker Astronomy
- Skepticality

Buy My Stuff
Bad Astronomy at
Keep Bad Astronomy close to your heart, and help make me filthy rich. Hey, it's either this or one of those really irritating PayPal donation buttons here.

Info on the Leonid meteor storm

Week of November 2, 1998

NEW: see the Leonids LIVE!
November 14, 1998:
I have added a list of live webcasts that will let people all over the Earth see what the shower is doing from the points which may get the predicted max from the meteors.

I have big news this week!

First off, I was the guest 'expert' on the Discovery Channel website's weekly webcast called 'Science Live!'. Anyone with web access can participate, though you need RealAudio to listen in. The topic was the 1998 Leonid meteor shower on November 17th. The Discovery Online site archives the webcasts, so you can still listen to it. You can get to it directly from the Discovery Online website or from the Real Broadcast Network.

Every year, there are several meteor showers that occur at regular times; the Perseids in August are perhaps the best example. Comets, which are basically giant snowballs packed with dust, gravel and ice, melt a bit when they approach the Sun. Like a gravel truck that has debris flying off it on a road, comets fling off bits of themselves as they round the Sun. Every year, if the Earth passes through the comet's orbit, we get a shower of meteors when these bits of debris burn up in our atmosphere.

The Leonids are one such shower. They peak around November 17th every year. This year may be very special though: the parent comet, named Temple-Tuttle after its discoverers, has just rounded the Sun and is heading back out to deep space. It orbits the Sun every 33.2 years, and in past years when the Earth passes through its debris after the comet has recently passed, the meteor shower turns into a brief storm, sometimes pelting the Earth with an incredible 100,000 meteors per hour as seen by some observers! This dense stream of gravel is very narrow, and the Earth typically plows through it in an hour or so, so only a few places on the Earth get the Big Show.

image of Earth as seen by a Leonid My friend Ed Murphy, who has studied the Leonid meteors' potential threat to orbiting satellites, put together the image to the left that represents what a Leonid shower particle would see just before it hits the Earth (click it for a larger version). Note that Asia is in the has the big advantage since it is dark at the time of the predicted peak and is facing the right way to see them. However, the predicted time of peak may be off by as much as 12 hours, so this view may change, bringing the U.S., England or anywhere into the best spot.

The thing to do is simply go outside and look. Showers are usually best after local midnight, but in this case you should go out as soon as it gets dark. You can make a night of it under the stars if it's clear; get a lawn chair and a blanket (it can get cold at night, even if November is summer for you!) and simply lay back. You don't need a telescope or binoculars, since meteors can zip anywhere in the sky. A dark site is best, but Leonids are known for fast bright meteors, so even a bright sky is not so bad. I plan on going to a site about 30 or 40 kilometers from the nearest big city, so we can see lots of shooting stars.

My description here is brief, but there are many sites on the web with more info about meteors in general and the Leonids specifically. Each of these websites links to many others, so if you can get through to any of them you'll have access to lots of info.


Here is a list of web sites that will be broadcasting the Leonids live over the web. You may need special plugins to view; go to the sites and see what they will be doing!

  • The San Antonio Astronomical Association has a long list of live webcasts on their site.

  • NASA itself will be hosting a live webcast at It will be mirrored at

  • The Thailand news company Chiang Mai News will be sending out a live webcast of the shower. US mirror sites include Discovery Online (an excellent site anyway) and The Piedmont Pages. These may be the best bet for US folks trying to see the storm live.

  • Leonids Live! This web site is based in Japan, which has a very good chance of getting thousands of meteors an hour from the Leonids.

    The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan made a press release, which you can see in its entirety on the Sky and Telescope website. Here is the part of the release pertinent to the webcasts, which I have taken from the Sky and Telescope site and modified slightly:

    1:Live from Saji Observatory, Tottori prefecture:

    2:Live from "Live! Leonids 98", including Mt. Fuji, Hakkai-san, and Misato Observatory, Wakayama Prefecture.

    3:Live from Mt.Yatsugatake, Yamanasi-pref. Japan

    4:Milkyway Live from Agawa village, Kochi Prefecture.

    All these efforts are performed by so-called public astronomical observatories, which have been built by local governments as a part of scientific education for the general public. There are more than 200 observatories, and most of them have relatively large telescopes. Main purpose of these observatories is public service in educational aspects of astronomy and related sciences. We believe that these observatories are playing an important role in education on astronomy. Our Public Relation Center is supporting these observatories by supplying many kinds of information on astronomy, and participates in cooperative programs like these events.


    Directly to each web site administrator, or Dr.Jun-ichi Public Information Office, Public Relation Center, National Astronomical Observatory, Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo 181, JapanPhone:+81-422-34-3638 FAX:+81-422-34-3810

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

This page last modified

Subscribe to the Bad Astronomy Newsletter!

Talk about Bad Astronomy on the BA Bulletin Board!