Posted On November 15, 2016
By Wayne Johnson (aka Mr. Galaxy)
The Leonids: A Report
I went out to Anza last Sunday night (Nov 15/16) to show objects (including 3 pretty nice comets) to an observational astronomy class from Irvine Valley College. After the class left I decided to stay to search for supernovae and possibly to get a preview of the Leonids. I didn't expect anything, but it was fortunate that I did stay because I saw three bright bolides (exploding meteors) easily as bright as a full moon (between -10 and -12 mag) and bright enough to cast strong shadows in the next few hours. One had a trail that persisted for more than 15 minutes and resembled the number 3 just to the east of Orion. It was beautiful to watch in binoculars as it deformed. One of the bolides was a sporadic, but the other two were Leonids. Between 4am and 5am I counted about a meteor a minute on average, most of the time they would come in groups of two or three within a few seconds and then there would be nothing for 5 minutes then another burst. Many were as bright as Jupiter and left short-lived trails, but there were many faint ones, too.
Arlene and I also went out to Anza Tuesday night (Nov 17/18) to see if there were any stragglers after the main peak, but we were clouded out there. We decided to go to Idyllwild and try our luck in the mountains. It was beautifully clear (and cold!) there and we were able to watch for an hour. We still saw quite a few meteors the brightness of Jupiter (about -2 mag), but the rate was about one every couple of minutes or about 30 an hour. We saw two brighter ones (about -4 mag) within a minute of each other shortly before the coldness forced us to leave. As we were driving back into Hemet we saw our brightest one, which appeared to fragment. It was about -6 magnitude. All in all we had a great time watching the latest Leonid display.