A Comet Comes from Leo

Today is the anniversary of the first recorded observance of a meteor shower in North America. It is now known as the Leonids.

Certainly, people observed this event for centuries before in North America and elsewhere, but it is Andrew Ellicott Douglass who was the first to record it here.

Douglass was an American astronomer who was on a ship off the Florida Keys on November 12, 1799, when he saw them. He wrote that the “whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with skyrockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel. They continued until put out by the light of the sun after day break.”


The Leonids meteor shower occurs every November. The debris from the comet known as Tempel-Tuttle seems to originate in the constellation Leo the Lion when the burning debris appears to us on Earth.

The shower is visible from November 6 to the 30th and will peak the morning of November 17.

According to earthsky.org, visibility depends on when you watch, where you watch, and on the clarity and darkness of your night sky. Ideally, be in a rural location and when the Moon is new or a smaller crescent phase just before dawn when the Moon has set.

Tonight the Moon is in its Waxing (growing) Gibbous phase and is about 60% illuminated as it moves to full on the 19th.

When the comet’s orbit actually takes it back to that Leo part of the solar system (which happens about every 33 years) the meteor shower is especially spectacular.


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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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