Leonids meteor shower one to sleep through this year

Tuesday, November 4th 2008, 5:18 pm
By: News 9

By News9 Meteorologist Carrie Rose.

One of the greatest meteor showers of the year is approaching--the Leonids!  This shower is in mid-November each year, and has produced some of the most spectacular meteor shower events ever. 

In 1966 and 1999 (1998-2002 were all good peak years), skywatchers saw 3,000 to 5,000 meteors per hour!  That is an amazing statistic, especially when compared to an average Leonids, which delivers only 15-20 meteors per hour. 

I remember the 1999 Leonids shower.  My dad and I got up in the middle of the night, drove up to the front field at our house in Georgia, and snuggled in as warm as we could in sleeping bags and comforters with hot chocolate in our mittened hands.  It can get pretty chilly at night in Georgia by mid-November, especially when you have perfect meteor shower conditions of clear skies, dry air, and light winds.  We must have been out in the field for at least two hours watching the nearly continuous progression of meteors streaming across the sky.  Some were "earth grazers," taking long, bright paths across the sky.  Others were more typical of the Leonids, being fast-movers you might miss if you blinked twice.

This year, though, you might not want to even bother waking up in the pre-dawn hours of November 17.  This show is a total snooze-fest.  Here's why...

The Leonids shower has its own cycle, which peaks every 33 years (hence, the 1966 and 1999 awesome events).  That means we might not see another mega-show until 2032.  This year, astronomers are predicting a below-average viewing rate of about ten to 15 meteors per hour, streaking quickly across the pre-dawn sky November 17.  That's pretty puny, especially when you notice the bright, 73% illuminated Moon casting light all night!  So between the lower meteor rate and the bright Moon blocking the few meteors there are to see, just stay in bed and wait for a better meteor shower. 

So when could we see our next good meteor shower?  Our next best show will be the Perseids August 12-13, 2009.  One hitch in the show might be the Moon again, which will be 62% illuminated during the shower.  The rate of meteors, though, might compensate for the Moonlight, with about 60 meteors expected per hour.

Of course, meteor shower viewing is always at the mercy of cloudcover on the night of the peak.