Sky-conditions here in SE Northumberland proved disappointing over the predicted Leonid maxima.
On the tenth anniversary of the great 1998 Leonid fireball night, November 16-17 started fairly promisingly, with a partly clear sky at sunset, but the haze which hadn't been too obvious during daylight hours became very problematic after dusk, and the sky was never better than milky all night, even before moonrise. Once the Moon was up, there was an impressive 22-degree halo round it from late evening till after 03h, bright and complete for much of the time. Unfortunately, the hazy cloud also grew thicker later. I tried a couple of extended sky-checks, firstly for five minutes either side of 23:30 (limiting magnitude, LM, a pathetic +2.8, with 10% "real" cloud at least in my view wherever I looked), but the only sky activity I saw was the lunar halo.
Given the predicted potential maximum times, I tried again from 00:10-00:35 UT, as the sky had "improved" slightly (LM +3.0, 5% cloud!), and to my surprise, I spotted two Leonids of mags +2 and 0 (with a 2-second train despite the haze) and a +1 mag sporadic in that time. The brighter Leonid shot almost overhead at 00:20 UT, an odd near-coincidence with the 00:22 UT prediction for the possible brighter-meteors peak one theorist had suggested, though scarcely significant under the conditions!
Sadly, before 01h UT, the cloud was so thick I could see no stars, nor any but the vaguest mottling on the Moon (though the halo was brighter than ever). Conditions steadily deteriorated further after this, so there was no chance for any more hopeful checking. Then November 17-18 was cloudy throughout with rain...
To keep up with how the global meteor community saw things, changing all the time at present as fresh data arrives, keep an eye on the "live" Leonids webpage off the IMO homepage, at http://www.imo.net
. The pattern seems to be settling on a peak ZHR of about 90 around 02:30 UT on November 17 at its best, rather later than predicted, if it is confirmed later.
And in less than a month's time, we get to do it all again for the even more badly moonlit Geminids!
Meteor Director, Society for Popular Astronomy.
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