StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


323    NOVEMBER 3, 2002:   High Leonid Activity Assured
We are now two weeks away from what could possibly be the last great meteor storm of the 21st century. Nearly another 100 years will pass before the debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle will again so strikingly impact the Earth. The comet and its dust strands, which last rounded the sun in 1998, are due to be perturbed by Jupiter's gravitational influences in August of 2029. The Leonid events of 2033 and 2065 place the comet's dross too far away from the Earth for any likely intersection and high meteor activity. Only in 2098 and 2131 do resumptions of high Leonid storm rates seem likely. The certainty of the prediction that the Earth will encounter the 1767 dust trail at 11 p.m., EST on November 18th and the 1866 dust strand about six and one half hours later has never been higher. Last year, several teams of astronomers competed in an unofficial contest to see who could best predict the moment of highest Leonid activity. The losing time for a prediction was only 11 minutes off target! This is an extraordinary feat considering that just five years ago these types of calculations were pretty much hit or miss. The Internet has linked observers around the world into a formidable 24-hour research network that has undoubtedly helped the professionals to unravel the secrets of the dust braids that produce the intense activity associated with Leonid storms. The only variable besides the weather is the precise detail of the braid structure. Some locations will see undoubtedly more activity than others, but there is a very strong consensus that all targeted areas, which include the East Coast, should be prepared for another strong display of meteors and fireballs. More information will be presented next week about how best to view the Leonids.

324    NOVEMBER 10, 2002:   Observing the Leonids
Next Monday evening through dawn Tuesday (Nov. 18-19) could be unforgettable as Leonid meteors light up the sky similar to last year's spectacular display witnessed throughout the Northeast. The major difference this time will be the moon, which will be nearly full and lighting up the sky, but not enough to dim the brighter meteors which could number about 60 per hour between 11 p.m. and midnight, and as many as 300 to 600 per hour between 5-6 a.m. What happens between these times is really anyone's guess, but if you recall, last year's activity remained exciting throughout the entire night. Depending upon your schedule for the following day, and your ability to withstand the cold, you may want to pull an all-nighter. Activity should start just after 11 p.m. as the radiant, the location from where the Leonid meteors are coming, rises in the east. The moon will be high and nearly due south, so look towards the northeast about mid-sky or a little higher. It is imperative not to allow any direct moonlight into your field of view. The meteors that you'll see will be grazing Earth's upper atmosphere and producing long trails. As the night progresses, the moon will move westward, and you will be able to shift your viewing location ever eastward towards a higher Leo. You can't miss bright Jupiter just to the right of the radiant. By 4:30 a.m. you should be facing southeast and looking nearly overhead. The moon will low in the west and less obtrusive as meteor rates again begin to increase for the big show at 5:40 a.m. Maps can be found on the web edition of this week's StarWatch at the URL below. Also check out the many StarWatch articles since early October that have dealt with observing this event.
[Leonids 2002, 11 p.m., Nov. 18]
FIRST BURST: Leonid activity may begin just as the radiant rises around 11 p.m, November 18th. Keep your back to the moon to avoid having its glare affect your meteor counts. Be advised, however, that the sky will be flooded with moonlight. Graphics by Gary A. Becker...
[Leonids 2002, 5:30 a.m., Nov. 19]
BY DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT: Leonid meteors will be streaming away from the position marked "X" on the map which will be just a little to the left of Jupiter. The planet Jupiter will be the brightest starlike object in the sky at the time, except for Venus, which may or may not be seen because of its low alititude. Graphics by Gary A. Becker...

325a  NOVEMBER 17, 2002:   Leonid Watch
The stage is set for a memorable Monday evening through Tuesday morning, weather permitting. We will experience two periods of Leonid meteor activity created by Earth's passage through two separate dust trails given off by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, one from its 1767 passage around the sun, and the other in 1866. We passed through these same two dust braids in 2001, but the East Coast only had the opportunity of witnessing the 1767 meteor display. That is what triggered the spectacular activity that occurred in the predawn hours of November 18, 2001, when at times as many as four meteors were simultaneously visible in the sky. Asia witnessed a pyrotechnics display from the 1866 dross that was twice as active about 1:16 p.m. EST. Of course, here it was daylight. On Monday evening the East Coast will witness meteors from the 1767 comet passage about 11 p.m., but we will also encounter the 1866 dust trail, seen last year in Asia, on Tuesday morning. Rates should be at their best around 5:40 a.m. Activity should remain above half strength for about hour on either side of the predicted times of maximum for both events. Keep in mind that bright moonlight and Leo on the horizon should drastically reduce the hourly count to perhaps 60 meteors between 11 p.m. and midnight and 300-600 shooting stars, maybe more, between 5-6 a.m. If the event materializes as planned, count meteors in 10-minute intervals, and do not combine the rates of several observers. Record your observations in pencil because pen ink may not flow as well in freezing conditions. E-mail your results to I'll try to post an update by Thursday to let everyone know exactly what really happened.

325b  NOVEMBER 20, 2002:   Leonid Dribble
I am trying to figure out whether I'm just insanely dedicated or just plain insane. Yeah, I was the guy in the cornfield just to the west of Schnecksville. I admit that I was the person bundled up in five layers of down, insulated socks and felt booties, stuffed into a sleeping bag with two balaclavas wrapped tightly around his head. And yes, I was the guy looking at a mostly cloud-filled sky, brilliantly illuminated by a soft-haloed moon for almost the entire night. November 18th into the 19th was the evening of the big event, the big meteor show, but instead the Leonid meteor storm wasn't even a shower. It was more of a drizzle or a meteor dribble. It was also a disappointment for my observing colleagues, Mark Balanda of Easton, Rosa Salter of Allentown, and Fran Kittek of Coopersburg. Reports arriving from Europe and across the US have also indicated a much weaker display with fainter meteors than last year, a "sprinkle in the moonlight" according to Sky and Telescope writer, Gary Seronik. Sam Hopkins, a former Allen student of mine reporting from Poughkeepsie, NY confirmed our low counts, seeing five Leonids between 11 p.m. and midnight Monday, and 20 meteors between 4:45 a.m. and 5:55 a.m. Tuesday. West, in Valencia, California, Vince Velivis, formally of Allentown, counted 100 Leonids in a 50-minute interval ending at 3:05 a.m. PST. Back in the cornfield we chanted, whistled, and even considered performing a meteor dance to spur on greater activity, but alas the shooting stars were just not in the venue. Instead, the clouds just grew thicker. Now I guess, I'll just have to set my sights on the next great Leonid spectacle slated to occur in November of 2098. Wish me success!
[Observing Leonids near Schnecksville]
Observing Leonid Meteors: It was the coldest night of the season, the moon was full, and the sky was filled with a high cirrus haze. Still with all of these negatives, thousands of area enthusiasts went outdoors to hopefully witness an impressive Leonid display. The spectacle never materialized according to the reports of observers around the world. Here, from left to right, Rosa Salter of Allentown, Fran Kittek of Coopersburg, Mark Balanda of Palmer Township, and Gary A. Becker of Coopersburg (in sleeping bag) brave the cold to see a few Leonids. Not until 2098 will this meteor shower return with any certainty of producing high numbers of shooting stars. Gary A. Becker automated digital photo...

326    NOVEMBER 24, 2002:   A Lunar Halo to Remember
Even though this year's Leonid meteor shower was less than expected, thousands of Lehigh Valley residents had the opportunity of witnessing a truly spectacular halo surrounding the moon. It dominated the sky from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. from where my friends and I were observing just west of Schnecksville. From the infrared satellite loops that I kept reviewing throughout most of the day with my meteorologist friend, Adam Jones of Allentown, it was apparent to me that millions of Pennsylvanians also had the same halo-viewing opportunities. The loops, of course, did not show the halo, but they revealed a large area of cirrus clouds associated with a weak and fast moving weather disturbance approaching from the west. Cirrus clouds are composed of ice crystals, and from the moment they made their appearance, so did the 22-degree halo. This type of lunar halo, or solar halo, if the situation happens during the day, results from the prismatic effects of light entering hexagonal or pencil-shaped crystals. If you extend the sides of the crystal, it is easy to see how they intersect to form equilateral triangles with each angle equivalent to 60 degrees. Moonlight or sunlight entering a 60-degree prism composed of ice is refracted or bent minimally by an angle of 22 degrees. As the crystals rotate in the air, these angles are continuously changing, causing the light to be refracted at greater angles, but never less than 22 degrees. This causes the inner section of the halo to brighten rather abruptly, but fade gently into obscurity away from the moon. Perhaps this soft and gossamer lunar halo occurring on the night of November 18-19 was Nature's way of compensating for the scarcity of Leonid meteors, its own way of turning lemons into lemonade.
[Lunar Halo by Fran Kittek]
22 DEGREE LUNAR HALO: Mark Balanda of Palmer Township stands under the haloed full moon on the night of Leonids maximum, November 18-19. High cirrus ice clouds from an approaching weather disturbance formed the spectacular 22-degree halo that was visible for most of the night and helped to keep meteor counts low. If you examine the photo closely you will see the rainbow of colors with the longest wavelength (red) appearing at the inner boundary of the ring. The longest wavelengths are refracted or bent the lease and therefore must appear closest to the inner circumference of the halo. Fran Kittek photograph, The Morning Call...

November Star Map

November Moon Phase Calendar