Rick Smith Leonids

I had a great time at Chris’ meteor shower observation party. Pasha (my wife) and I arrived at Rick’s ranch at dusk and after visiting around a fire and enjoying some hamburgers we bedded down for a few hours. There was a fairly solid overcast of cirrostratus clouds, and I thought that the observation would be ruined. However, as it got later, the sky cleared up. (Very strange: the cold of night burnt off the clouds...)

Jan told us about a meteor that he saw an hour earlier. (The best one he had ever seen.) It had crossed the sky from horizon to horizon and he hoped that he would see a better one later tonight. (He got his wish.)

Chris dozed outside and woke us up after midnight. We had hot chocolate, Coke and other caffeine beverages to wake and warm us up, and went out side.

Chris had set up a series of tiny dim lights to show us where our areas of the sky to observe were. We settled in and started watching the sky. Even though our eyes were not dark adjusted we started seeing meteors at once.

We were supposed to be quiet but people kept oohing and ahhing at especially nice meteors.

People were reporting that their button arrays (that kept count on meteors in the various areas) were not beeping correctly. Also Chris was having trouble getting the electronics in his big box to talk to his computer. He was hunched over working on this problem while we watched the sky show.

I’ve never seen so many meteors! The air was clear, not a cloud was visible. We were far from any city and I could easily see the milky way (not usually possible from our Vancouver suburb).

Chris gave up on his electronic equipment and we all relaxed and enjoyed the show. I turned around so I was looking directly at a pentagon of stars were the Leonid’s came from.

It was eerie looking up at the night sky and seeing meteors streaming out in all directions from this point in the sky. It made me feel like the whole world was flying in that direction (which of course it was). A bit before 3:00 AM the meteors seemed to reach a peak. They were almost constantly flashing. I started counting "one thousand one, one thousand two..." to myself for a couple of minutes or so. Usually I would see a meteor before I got to one thousand a four. The longest I went was 9 seconds.

I estimate that at this peak time I was seeing a meteor every two seconds or so (I believe Rick Crawford came to the same estimate). This would mean that if this rate had lasted for the whole hour we would have seen 1,800 meteors that hour. But the rate fell off a bit, and I estimate I saw between 1,000 and 1,250 meteors in that hour alone.

Some meteors were fireballs. Once I saw a flash to the south that was so bright that I thought some fool had used a camera flash up on the ridge. The people looking that way said a meteor had blown up with a giant flash. I saw perhaps 10 or a dozen fire balls blow up that night but none were anywhere near as bright as this one.

A few meteors had no trails, but most left a visible streak. Most tails lasted less than a second but a fair number glowed for a second or two. Perhaps one in a hundred lasted 4 seconds or so.

One very bright, greenish meteor had a very bright and long lasting trail. It was easily visible for 60 seconds and had not quite disappeared, when I looked back at the center of the shower. However, 20 minutes or so later people said that they could still see it. I looked, and thought I might see a vague blur that seemed more spread out than that trail should be, but was not sure that I was seeing the same thing.

Chris looked at the trail with the light amplification goggle and said that the trail had blown in the wind. A guess of mine is that the meteor had reached the stratosphere and left a contrail like a jet plane. It seemed strange that it was still glowing after so long, but perhaps there were enough ground lights that we were seeing the reflected light. (The moon had set.)

The main shower seemed to be dying down, and we had people count how many meteors they saw in a 2 minute period. Averaging our counts and doing a few calculations showed that even during this slow period we were seeing about 700 meteors per hour.

The rate seemed to pick up a little but we were beginning to get sky glow. Most people had called it a night but I was having so much fun I stuck it out. I was looking higher into the sky to keep my eyes on the darkest part of the sky.

Around 5 minutes to 6:00 am (by Pasha’s watch) a gigantic meteor came from high in the south east and few down to the north. I did not see where it started but the motion caught my eye and I looked that way calling Ann’s attention to it. (The two of us were the last ones at the observation site.)

It was really bright and vivid green. Its trail was not an even streak but had a ragged moving edge. The meteor was between one half or 1/3 of the diameter of the full moon (my estimate). Ann and Jan said that it was 2 to 3 times the diameter of Venus at its brightest. It did not fireball; it just vanished to the north maybe 10 or 15 degrees above the horizon.

After the meteor vanished I heard a low hissing sound that started above me to the left which moved downwards and north. This sound seemed to trail the meteor by 3 or 4 seconds. I believe that it was the sound of the meteor moving thru the air. Given that the speed of sound is around 350 meters / second (if memory serves) this means that the meteor was around a km away from us! The noise just died away, there was no explosion sound.

The trail lasted for over 40 seconds.

Ann and Garnet heard it. (Garnet could not describe the sound but said she thought it was close because of the noise.)

Jan and someone else were sitting at the fire warming up when this meteor came. Despite the fact that their eyes had no night adaptation, they clearly saw it. Both were talking at once and the fire was crackling so they did not hear anything.

Pasha was on her way up to the house when she saw a flash in the sky. She looked around and saw its trail in the sky. It was not even, but looked like a string of green pearls with glowing blobs and areas where the trail had almost died away. It was a vivid emerald green. She didn’t hear anything.

I had been just about to go in, but after the giant meteor everyone who was still awake joined together to talk about it. I talked to Jan and Ann for some time (he told me who he had been sitting with but I forgot the name). As we talked we kept looking up at the sky. It was dawn but we still saw quite a few bright meteors. I saw one at about 6:35 that was a vivid red. Maybe 10 minutes later I saw a close pair that were both exactly the same shade of vivid yellow.

The colors were so bright, I was wondering if the colors of dawn were shining thru our atmosphere and coloring the ionized trail of the meteor.

Eventually we went to bed around 7:00 am.

I have very good night vision and good peripheral vision. I estimate that I saw around 1,000 meteors / hour for the first couple hours, maybe 700 / hour for 2 hours, and a total of 1,000 meteors in the last 3 hours I was up. More than 4,000 meteors for half a night’s observation! I had a great time.

Then Pasha and I went into a Limestone cave and took in a few shows in Las Vegas. (’O’ by the Circ de Sole was excellent.)

Well worth the trip! I hope Chris does this again for some other meteor storm.
Rick Smith