Leonid Meteor Storm Springs Early Surprise
Early reports suggests that the expected Leonid meteor storm did indeed take place - but around 16 hours sooner than forecast. Astronomers working at the UK's Isaac Newton Telescope on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands estimated that they were seeing meteors at a rate of 2000 per hour as dawn broke around 5 a.m. GMT on Tuesday 17th November, with numbers still going up.
Amateur astronomers and member of the public in the UK and other western European countries have been reporting large numbers of meteors - hundreds per hour - between about 1.00 and 6.00 a.m. on the 17th. By noon GMT, the rate seemed to have declined substantially, according to reports from observers in the US, where it was still dark. The peak of the storm probably occurred over the Atlantic Ocean around 6 a.m. GMT.
Astronomer Dr Alan Fitzsimmons of the Queen's University, Belfast, was one of the lucky observers to witness the storm in the clear dark skies over the La Palma Observatory. "The number of bright meteors is astounding" he wrote as the storm grew in intensity at about 5.30 a.m.. "Every couple of minutes you get a bright flash behind you and you turn around to see the trail fading. The brightest meteors have bright green trails, and often bright red heads. We are approaching one meteor per second and the rate still seems to be increasing, but twilight is now beginning."
The precise timing and strength of an exceptional meteor storm such as this is extremely difficult to predict. Astronomers bold enough to make forecasts had suggested the peak was most likely to be seen around 8 p.m. GMT, and any storm best seen from the far east. Once the observations made this year are analysed, it should be easier to predict whether there could be a repeat performance in 1999.
No information has yet been received on whether any satellites or spacecraft suffered damage as a result of the meteor storm.