Bob Hampton's photos of

Leonids Meteor Shower

Nov. 18, 2001

As photographed from my home in the mountains of western North Carolina, using a 35mm. camera with a 35mm. lens, 400 speed color print film, and a tripod.

The Leonids meteor shower happens every year around November 17 and 18. This is when the Earth in it's orbit around the Sun passes through an area containing numerous debris fields left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, a short period comet in a 33 year orbit that intersects the orbit of Earth. The Leonids meteors of 2001 were debris left by Tempel-Tuttle in 1767.

The Leonids are high velocity meteors. They are in fact the fastest of the meteors, entering our atmosphere at a speed of about 150,000 mph.

This 5 minute exposure shows at least 3 bright Leonids meteors.

This year the Leonids shower was predicted to be especially intense, possibly becoming a "meteor storm" with thousands of meteors per hour. So I spent the entire night outside watching for meteors. The storm never happened, but the meteor shower was very intense and very worthwhile anyway, bringing hundreds of visible meteors per hour at it's peak.

This is the same photo as above, but indicating the constellation of Leo, the named star Regulus, and the radiant of the Leonids shower, which seems to be in or near the circle. This is the area in space toward which the Earth is moving when the shower happens, and the part of the sky from which the meteors seem to originate.

A few more bright Leonids "radiating" from the sickle of Leo! 10 minute exposure.

This year there were a very few bright Leonid fireballs, streaking across the sky, leaving their eerie, persistent phosphorescent trains. But most of the Leonids meteors of 2001 were small, probably like grains of dust or sand, and they burned up quickly in the atmosphere. What made the display so unique was the number of meteors. It had been a continuous visual barrage from about 4:30 AM, and by dawn I felt like I had seen at least a thousand meteors, far more meteors than I had ever seen before!

One bright Leonid in the constellation Canis Major!

They're not very obvious, but I can find at least 10 meteors in this view of Ursa Major!

I was a little disappointed when I first saw these pictures. My camera saw only the brightest of the Leonids, recording only a fraction of the meteors that were plainly visible to the eye. This is a 45 minute exposure, taken near the peak of the shower. I saw at least 20 meteors in this part of the sky while this picture was exposing and I know there were many more, but not a single one of them showed on the photo! (green light is the radar detector!)

But I wasn't disappointed very long. What good fortune it was, after all, to have seen such a thing as that meteor shower. And what incredible good fortune to also have my photos show some of them, any of them! The more I look at these pictures the more I like them!

Photos © 2001 by Bob Hampton  All Rights Reserved

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