Leonid Meteor Shower

Let me just say that I’m going to strangle the next astronomer I meet, if I don’t die first from kicking myself.

Yes, I got up last night at 2:15 am to watch the “most spectacular meteor shower until 2099.” Yes, I saw a few meteors, probably 20 or so over the course of an hour.

But Ye Gods, was I underwhelmed. This astronomy professor on the radio was saying that idiots in the 1830s saw this same shower and thought the world was going to end. Hardly.

I mean, I wasn’t expecting Armageddon or anything, but I am now strongly of the opinion that the phrase “metor shower” should be outlawed as false advertising.

I should have learned my lesson the last few times I tried to watch an astronomical event. Never had much more than a “huh”-type reaction to any of them. Comets, meteors, etc., all of them are dull as dishwater.

Hey, it’s not the astronomers’ fault that you (a) thought it was going to be Star Wars (b) aren’t thrilled by the glory of Nature © were watching on the night of a full moon.

And 20 isn’t “a few”; it’s a LOT.

Can you even see the stars in Pasadena ? Dirty, light-polluted skies can erase celestial marvels as thoroughly as a heavy cloud cover.

Of course it’s not their fault. But I must destroy them nonetheless.

By the way, how in the heck did the word “meteor” turn red in my post? Somebody’s been editing. Not nice.

Wait a second, it’s gone now. But I hit “back” twice and there it was, red. Very strange.

Actually, Nametag -

A) I didn’t. And if you’d heard the astronomer describe it in giddy schoolgirl terms, as the one I listened to did, you’d probably have expected quite a lot yourself.

B) Actually, I am, but again the whole “19th century people thought it meant the end of the world” build-up led me to believe that it would be something unmistakeable (not necessarily “Star Wars,” though I do love being belittled), rather than something I wouldn’t even have noticed had I not been staring fixedly at the sky for an hour. Personally, I find a lunar eclipse or even a simple sunset just about as impressive.

C) You’re right. I can’t blame someone for the full moon. How silly of me to imagine that an astronomer might have mentioned that the moon would interfere with observing an event of this nature.
Squink - It was abnormally clear for Pasadena, which was one of the reasons I bothered to get up. I thought city light might be an issue, but the moonlight more than equalled that. I could have read a book by that moon.

Were you searching for “meteor” and this thread popped up again?

You know, I might have been. Of course paranoia and a really crappy short-term memory add fuel to the fire.

Last year the Leonid shower was rather impressive. I didn’t see any that looked like fireworks, as some seem to have seen, but I saw a LOT of meteors zipping around–more in one minute than in my lifetime previously. At times, it exceeded one per second.

In reading about it on the net last year, I gathered that for the prior two years ('99 & '00), it had been predicted to be great, but was a bust. They said that this time ('01) it would REALLY be good (including no moon), and they were right. I can’t help but wonder if the '02 prediction was a goof like '99 and '00 were.

I believe that the term “meteor storm” has a specific definition, something like 1000 meteors/hour. The storm that your astronomy professor was significantly more impressive than what you experienced. If you were suddenly seeing 4,000 meteors per hour, in pre-industrial times where there was no light pollution, you’d be excused for thinking that the sky was falling.

At least from my observations, the Leonids were active this year, but no where near storm levels.

I TOLD them this would happen. Did they care? No! I said, “You know what, you’re setting the public up for disappointment. Don’t hype this. After all, the public doesn’t UNDERSTAND clouds or disappointment.”

Let me give you a little secret: the media doesn’t have much of an astronomical sense unfortunately (please see www.badastronomy.com if you don’t believe me) and they certainly don’t want to waste precious time in which we might talk about, say, Jennifer Lopez to inform the public about the various considerations of meteor shower viewing. Give us a fifteen second soundbite and then off to sports. So, chicken-little-like, they trumpet the SHOWER OF THE CENTURY while failing to mention the potential drawbacks. Well, I’m shocked, sir, absolutely shocked.

Blame the general public’s short attention span. Blame the media’s inability to do accurate science reporting. Blame the poor, strapped-for-time astronomer who just wants the public to look UP for God’s sake and was a bit tired of doing the long dog-and-pony show when people just don’t seem to care. Sure blame all those people while you yourself couldn’t look in a FREAKIN’ ALMANAC or do a Google Search on the internet or ask on a discussion board some questions or gee, looked up in the sky before you went to bed before you got up at a godawful hour. Excuse me if I have no patience for your whining.

Pardon the irritation, but I was up all night watching meteors with googly-eyed introductory astronomy students and didn’t get any sleep.

I got up at 5:30 to take a gander, and I saw maybe 4 in about 5 minutes. Sky was a bit cloudy as well, so the viewing was not optimal. Disappointing none the less.

But it made me thing of something. If these meteors are hitting the atmosphere at such fantastic speeds, should we be able to hear a sonic boom? Reasons that I thought we might not are:

  1. They actually are burning up so far away that any sound would dissipate long before it reached the ground.

  2. They are hitting rarified atmosphere that is enough to burn them up, but not dense enough to propagate a sound.

  3. They are actually deflecting off of the atmosphere and not able to create a sonic boom.

So, what’s the real skinny?

I can’t tell whether you’re mad at me for being disappointed or the astronomer for hyping it, or NPR (where I heard it) for carrying the interview, or possibly all three.

Personally, I thought “Well, it’s not FOX news, so there might actually be something worth watching. I’d rather get up and be disappointed than wake up tomorrow and have missed something.” At a little before 3, having been informed that the peak would be at 2:30, I began wondering “Well, was that it? Should I go inside?” So I stayed outside and froze a little longer, waiting, not for “Star Wars” or anything, but just for something that I’d have rather been up for than not, until well after 3am.

So, excuse my frustration (or “whining” as you prefer), but don’t expect me to dig myself out of bed when your less than prudent colleagues start crying wolf about something else next year. I’ve learned my lesson.

At least you got to see something. Here it was so overcast, I couldn’t even see the moon, much less any meteors.

aI remember when the Perseid meteor storm was going to hit a few years ago. For months I was salivating, hoping all my traveling would put me in a good spot with good weather to view the show. I believe they were saying the best view would be from around the equator.

As luck would have it, I wound up on a small island in the Indian Ocean, a bit south of the equator. Virtually zero light pollution. Stars were everywhere. No moon. It was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.

I saw about ten in 20 minutes.

I’m not mad. I understand completely.

Here, The Philadelphia Inquirer informed us that it would be the best until 2099 however we wouldn’t be able to see most of it due to clouds and a fulll moon.

I saw 4 in 30 minutes. Though, I often saw what might have been meteors obscured by clouds, moon and city lights.

Last year the Inq said the Leonids would be spectacular. Just standing in the parking lot of my apartment building, I saw one meteor every thirthy seconds. This was despite the lights of the city, and the lights in the lot.

Had this year’s forecast been as misleading as yours was, I’d be pissed too.

What is the General Question here?

Er…, I had some questions (see previous). Anyone care to answer?

If these meteors are hitting the atmosphere at such fantastic speeds, should we be able to hear a sonic boom?

I wouldn’t expect to. Those meteors are rather small, and they’re wayup there. As per your guess #1, if there’s any sound associated with their hitting the atmosphere, it would dissipate long before getting near ground level.

I don’t know how much a factor guess #2 would be, but #3 does not apply. We see them because they are plowing through the atmosphere and burning, if they bounced off there would be no visual.

Thanks for the reply Gary T. I do have a follow up question:

Does anyone know for a fact if they do or do not make a sonic boom, regardless of the reason we don’t hear one?