Photos of the Leonids!

These are photos of the "Leonids", the meteor shower that took place during mid-November 2001.  It lasted a couple days, but the best time to see the meteors was late Saturday the 17th till early Sunday the 18th.  The forecasts varied; one said that the shower would peak around 5am Sunday, and I found that to be pretty accurate.  I watched from 2:30am - 3:30am, then from 4:30am - 5:30am.

Here's a little background: "The Leonid meter shower is caused by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which swings around the Sun every 33.2 years and leaves behind a trail of dust and debris.  When Earth passes through this stream of material, the small bits -- most no larger than a grain of sand -- burn up in the atmosphere and create shooting stars."  [source]

The shower was truly spectacular.  During both times that I watched, I saw at least one meteor every 10 seconds, and often I saw two or three per second.  They look like the "regular" shooting stars you might see on any given night, except much bigger/brighter.  The brightest ones made the whole sky flash, like lightning... but those were rare.  I only saw about 5 like that.

Some websites were giving tips on how to photograph these Leonids.  They recommended setting your shutter speed to 1, 5, even 10 minutes.  Well my camera's longest shutter speed is 8 seconds, so I had to work a little harder... I was snapping a photo about every 12 seconds or so (8 seconds exposure, plus 2 seconds for the camera to record the data and recharge the CCD, and another 2 for me to press the button).  Well, except for when I was adjusting the tripod to reposition the shot... which, naturally, was when the biggest meteors decided to come out.

At 1600x1200 resolution, these photos were about 600 kilobytes each, so my 128 megabyte Sony Memory Stick held 202 photos.  Which was just about perfect, because by photo #202 I could no longer feel my toes in the below-freezing weather.  Anyway, out of 202 photos, I caught a meteor in only 8 of them.

OK, there's a Leonid in this photo, but it's in the center, not at the bottom. At the bottom is the trail of the red tail-light of a passing car.