In recent days, I’ve been hearing the excited murmurings of skywatchers: “The Leonids are coming!” That is indeed true. In fact, the Leonids are expected to reach their peak before dawn on Tuesday (Nov. 18).
No doubt, some folks are visualizing a sky filled with shooting stars pouring down through the sky like rain. Such meteor storms have indeed occurred with the Leonid meteor shower, such as in 1833 and 1966 when meteor rates of tens of thousands per hour were observed. In more recent years, most notably 1999, 2001 and 2002, lesser Leonid displays of up “only” a few thousand meteors per hour took place.
Those turn-of-the-century Leonid showers — and their accompanying hype — are what are remembered by many. So I think it is important to stress here at the outset that any suggestion of a spectacular meteor Leonid display this year is, to put it mildly, overly optimistic.