Under cloud cover, Steve Gottlieb, Jim Webster, Bob Kestner, myself, Robert Leyland, and a couple of others traveled to our favorite dark sky spot in the foothills of the Sierra... Clouds and dew were present till about 11pm--then a clearing trend appeared. It was completely clear by midnight and remained so until dawn.
No one did any scientific counts--that would take the fun out of it; but by 1am it was clear that this was already the best meteor shower any of us had ever seen.* The count at that time was about ten meteors every minute, or so--in other words; 60 an hour... and it was clear that the rate was increasing.
The meteor flurries continued to increase especially around 2:15 to 2:45; at that time we estimated an easy two per second--about 7200 an hour (if this burst would have lasted an hour, that is)! And this is a conservative estimate.
We were like a bunch of excited school children! At first we were all in our lawn chairs, but soon found out it was more fun to be on our feet: It really didn't matter where we looked, meteors were everywhere. If you looked at Leo in the East, meteors were short and sweet (since they were aimed more toward us), and their trains (trails) tended to persist longer (we were looking through a foreshortened train). But if one turned around 180 degrees and looked West, the meteor trains were exceedingly long (20-30 degrees was not uncommon), and the meteors appeared to be raining straight down from the sky. To the North, meteors were raining diagonally; the South about the same; and straight overhead--where it was darkest--watching bright Leonids streak through Taurus and Gemini was a treat well worth a stiff neck!
Magnitudes? Through there were faint meteors, most were quite bright: hovering around the 1st to zero magnitude levels. All of the really bright ones (say one in 10-15 were about -3 magnitude or brighter) left luminescent trains; some lasting as long as ten minutes. We started looking at the trains through binoculars--what a sight! When the train was fresh (within a second or two), the ionized gases glowed a greyish-blue-green, and they looked like a tubular worm--quite delineated from the dark sky... Within seconds, the upper atmosphere had its way with them and shaped them to its will: I remember one in particular that took on a "corkscrew" appearance--with quite the 3-D effect!
The meteors often came in "flurries"; not just in frequency, but in an area of sky they seemed to gravitate to--but never exclusive to. Seeing two or three meteors streak parallel to each other was quite common (not that we didn't "ooh" and "ahh," of course, _everytime_).
Meteor rates continued for a respectable rate until about 3:30? I know we all went to bed around 4am, and though meteors were still falling more frequent than any Persied shower I have seen, it was probably at a rate of one every five to fifteen seconds by then; similar rates to what it was about three hours earlier, in other words.
Bob noticed that Leo appeared to be lighter in appearance--judging by the darker skies immediately to the North and South of that constellation, and this "cloud of smoke" (?) was noticeably East of the radiant, too... This was obviously the Zodiacal Light, very prominent since we were currently passing through a meteor shower/comet trail! I took a few piggyback photos--one of Leo--hopefully this Zodiacal Light as well as radiant meteors--will show up on the pic.
I was the only one in our group to have witnessed the Leonid meteor storm of 1966, in which the number of meteors visible was on the magnificent order of _thousands_ per minute. Ray Cash
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