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The Leonids

a spectacular display of meteors that occurs every November

The Leonids generally begin on November 13 and end on November 21, with peak activity generally occurring on November 17. They are called Leonids because the meteors appear to originate in the Constellation Leo.

In most years observers see displays of about ten meteors an hour on the peak night, but about every 33 years the Leonids enter a phase of greatly enhanced activity that accompanies the return of their parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle. During these periods observers are treated to displays of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of meteors per hour. One of the most spectacular displays in centuries occurred on November 17, 1966, when for about half an hour as many as 2,000 meteors per minute could be seen by observers in the southwestern United States.

The Leonids as seen from Table Mountain Observatory, California, on November 17, 1966 (time-exposure photo).
The Leonids at their height in 1966

The study of meteor showers began with the 1833 appearance of the Leonids, thanks to American astronomer Denison Olmsted. It was he who first "traced the meteors back" to the Constellation Leo, and he proposed that they originated from a cloud of particles in space. That cloud turned out to be a comet, which was discovered by Ernst Tempel and Horace Tuttle in 1865 and 1866, respectively.

Meteor Showers Online

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This page was last updated on 11/02/2017.