Observing report for 18 November 2002




Leonid meteor storm


I left Boulder, CO just as a band of clouds was starting to move through around 11:15pm. I arrived at a large parking area for a hiking/4WD trailhead south of Fremont Pass (between Copper Mountain and Leadville) around 1:30am (8:30UT). This site is near 11,000ft elevation. Skies were completely clear behind (west of) the cloud band, and I got a fabulous show!!

Unfortunately, I dictated my meteor counts to a hand-held tape recorder every 10 minutes or so and I lost a bunch of my counts. (It may have been the cold; it was 10-15F.) But, here is what I did salvage:

9:00:30-9:10:00              (9.5 min)  20    2 per minute
9:21:00-9:29:00              (8 min)    30+   4 per minute

~10:31-10:40                 (~9 min)   70+   8 per minute
10:41:30-10:49:00            (7.5 min)  62    8 per minute
10:51:30-10:59:30            (8 min)    66    8 per minute
11:02:00-11:10:00            (8 min)    58    7 per minute
11:12:00-11:19:30            (7.5 min)  47    6 per minute
11:21:00-11:29:00            (8 min)    58    7 per minute
11:36:00-11:42:00            (6 min)    25    4 per minute
(I may have made a timing error on the last one)

~10:30-11:30                 (48 min)  361+
(10:10-11:10 might have been slightly better)

Some individual minutes had 20+ meteors, and at times they were coming so fast it was hard to count! The missing reports between 9:30 and 10:30 would have been 40s to 60s. Limiting magnitude was better than 6.0, but I didn't bring any star charts, etc.; I probably should have picked a lower altitude, too. I used to live at 7200ft, so 10-11kft wasn't much of issue, but living in the lowlands of the Colorado Front Range (~5400ft), it's a greater effect on one's vision.

Even beyond the "zenithal" correction to get ZHR, boost these numbers by about 10% to account for some trees that occasionally were in my view, and for my glasses fogging up in the calm, cold air (flapping your mittens in front of your face doesn't do much for your field of view). In any case, the ZHR for this must have been a couple thousand or so. A few clouds started showing up by 11:45, and twilight was starting to happen, but I still saw several per minute until I quit at 12:10. I should mention that my dark skies weren't nearly as helpful as usual, because so many of the meteors were bright enough to leave trails. I missed the brightest meteor. I was working with my camera and I got the proverbial "flashbulb" effect, which cast distinct shadows. The train from this bolide was naked-eye visible for nearly 10 minutes!

The short gaps between counts are due to photography. Had some problems with my lens frosting over, but in many cases I may have recorded as many as a dozen meteors in a 10-minute exposure with a 35mm lens (hardly super-wide field). I decided it was too cold to safely shoot any video.

I feel pretty stupid that I lost some of my data, but it's been nearly a decade since I've "worked" a meteor shower, and I haven't done any amateur astronomy in nearly 3 years (except a couple aurora displays from near Boulder). I was half expecting this to be a dud, so I spent more time making sure I had my cold-weather hiking gear with me, and if nothing happened, I could at least go for a short hike. But, after seeing nearly 1000 meteors (including what I saw when I wasn't counting and the dozen or so I saw through my windshield or door window while driving there!), I decided that my "day" was complete. :)

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