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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 11/98: The Leonids 98  
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The Leonids 98 Wednesday, 18 November, 1998, 17:36 GMT
Leonids arrive too early
Leonid
The Cape Enrage Lighthouse in New Brunswick, Canada
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

It is obvious now that the hoped-for meteor storm just did not happen, or rather it did not happen at the time it was predicted.

Consequently, observers who sat on the Great Wall of China, on top of skyscrapers in Tokyo, on the beaches of Thailand and on the steppes of Outer Mongolia saw very little.

What should have happened is that the Earth would pass through a column of particles shed from the comet Tempel-Tuttle. This year that comet has been particularly close so a large number of particles were predicted.

Telescope
A disappointment for many
The expected Leonid meteor storm did indeed take place - but about 16 hours earlier than forecast.

Astronomers working at the UK's Isaac Newton Telescope on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands said they were seeing meteors at a rate of 2,000 per hour as dawn broke about 0500 GMT on Tuesday 17 November.

Amateur astronomers and members of the public in the UK and other western European countries were reporting large numbers of meteors - hundreds per hour - after 0100 GMT on 17 November.

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 about 0600 GMT.

The best view

As a result, many people were looking on the wrong night.

Astronomer Dr Alan Fitzsimmons of 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 0530.

"Every couple of minutes you get a bright flash behind you and you turn around to see the trail fading.

Banner
Things did not go as expected
"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."

But most people missed it. On Tuesday night a few did see a handful of meteors in an hour and were impressed. So they should have been because meteors are wonderful to see.

But go out on almost any clear night and you will see a handful of them every hour.

If you looked and saw very little, then hold on until next year when the chances for a meteor storm are very good again.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
BBC science specialists Dr David Whitehouse and Dr Chris Riley discuss what happened
BBC News
Nasa spokesman Dr Dan Cruickshanks: The agency is happy with its observations
Links to more The Leonids 98 stories are at the foot of the page.


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