Meteors, are they bright enough to read by?

It’s possible that, once in a long while, you can read by the light of meteors. On November 13, 1833, supposedly there were shooting stars so bright in the night, you could do just this.

Shooting stars are called meteors by astronomers – and the Leonid meteor shower comes every year in November. This shower has produced some amazing displays when its parent comet – Tempel-Tuttle – is nearby. In 1833, some observers in North America reported 14,000 meteors per hour – maybe not bright enough to read by, but an unforgettable sight.

North Americans were treated to another eye-popping display of Leonid meteors in 1966.

Comet Tempel-Tuttle passed near the sun most recently in 1998. That prompted astronomers to predict better than average Leonid meteor storms for the next few years. In 2001, some observers reported seeing more than 1,000 meteors per hour, which turned that year’s Leonid meteor shower into a “meteor storm.” The Leonids in 2000 and 2002 were also impressive with observers seeing several hundred meteors per hour at the shower’s peak. But by 2003, the Leonids were back to their usual performance of no more than a few dozen meteors per hour.

Astronomers don’t predict any major Leonid meteor storms again until perhaps 2033 or later.

November 13, 2009

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