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The Leonids - animations & videos

The Leonids meteor shower occurs annually, each November. Every 33 years or so, throughout recorded history, it is particularly significant and spectacular. This year (2001) astronomers are predicting a 'full-scale storm' that will be visible over a North and Central America, East Asia and Australia. This set of synthetic images help to explain what is happening during a meteor shower.


The spectacular show every 33 years is linked to the return visits of the parent comet of the Leonid meteor showers, the periodic comet Tempel-Tuttle.


Have a look at the video (mpg 1.3 MB, or asf 66 k)

As the comet nears the Sun, the heat of the Sun boils off debris particles from the comet on the Sun-facing side which forms a trail in the wake of the comet. This last happened for Tempel-Tuttle in spring 1998, with the closest approach to the Sun in February 1998.

Have a look at the video (mpg 1.2 MB, or asf 61 k)

The trail of debris, made up of very fine particles of ice and material, is travelling extremely fast, at a speed relative to Earth of 71 kilometers per second. This debris trail is several earth diameters across. In mid-November the Earth crosses the comet's wake. Predictions for this year are for two storms: a burst lasting perhaps two hours in the predawn hours of November 18th for observers throughout most of North and Central America, and an even bigger storm before dawn on November 19th visible to observers rimming the far-western Pacific Ocean.

Have a look at the video (mpg 1.6 MB, or asf 75 k)

The trail of debris move in the opposite direction to the Earth's Orbit, therefore the speed relative to Earth is so high.


Have a look at the video (mpg 1.9 MB or asf 86 k)

The meteoroids impact the Earth's atmosphere which enables us to determine the number of meteoroids from a count of trails seen from a particular position on Earth per hour. Rates as high as 150000 per hour were seen for the last Leonids event in 1966. These trails are the result of burn up in the atmosphere of the larger particles. Of course there could also be many very small particles which do not get counted because they are too small to make trails, but could still penetrate spacecraft and create significant amounts of plasma.

Have a look at the video (mpg 1.9 MB, or asf 53 k)

Use of this material

Please note: You may use these animations, provided you clearly credit ESA when you do.

These pictures may not be used to state or imply the endorsement by ESA or any ESA employee of a commercial product, process or service, or used in any other manner that might mislead; if recognisable persons appear in this picture, use for commercial purposes may infringe their rights. If this picture is to be used in advertising or any commercial promotion, layout and copy should therefore be submitted to ESA beforehand for approval.

© ESA Science 2001.