Leonids of 2001

At around 0400 on the 18th November 2001, we went outside and gazed up at the clear night sky. The temperature was about 30F, and the air was calm. We bundled up in warm clothes, hats and scarves. We sat on director's chairs on the lawn with blankets wrapped around us. We could hear at least three other families on the street who were also sitting outside and cheering particularly bright meteors.

It became apparent early on that the rates were higher than predicted - maybe 200-300 per hour. As time passed, the rate increased, though not as much as predicted. We saw a couple of 'doubles' where two meteors lit up at exactly the same time and were colinear. I don't know whether this was a statistical fluke or a real effect. However, we didn't see any fireballs which was a bit of a disappointment. In all events, it was well worth getting up and braving the cold.

I tried to take photographs using a Nikon Coolpix 990, but nearly all came out sans meteor, apart from these two (click on them to get a double size image):

Technical info:  12 sec exposure at F2.5, focal length 8.2mm, facing roughly southwest


Technical info:  23 sec exposure at F2.5, focal length 8.2mm, facing roughly southwest

The big photographic problem was that I had the camera on the 'bulb' setting so that I could get longer than 8 second exposures. However, it was difficult to press (and keep pressed) the shutter button while wearing gloves. Nikon's remote control cord is wildly expensive -- so I guess the solution is to control the camera from a laptop. [I wonder if you could build a little infrared based remote control? Hmm..... Actually, like all good iseas, it turns out that someone has already done this. Check out the DigiSnap -- although it is a little more expensive than I had hoped. Maybe just use a laptop, USB cable, and some custom software. However, it appears that to use the 'bulb' setting requires knowing special Nikon opcodes.]

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Contact: Philip Gladstone