One of the history’s most prolific meteor showers, the Leonids, comes to its peak this weekend, November 17-18, 2017, and Headlands will offer an evening program indoors and a night hike outdoors to set the stage. The Leonid Meteor Shower Program will happen on Friday, November 17, from 8 to 10 pm at the Waterfront Event Center and Observatory. The program is free, and participants can park in the main lot near the event center as space permits.
The Leonid Meteor Shower is caused by the trail of debris left in the wake of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle as it speeds through our planetary system. Known as a periodic comet, Tempel-Tuttle was discovered in 1865, the same year that the American Civil War ended, and that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. In 1833 the Leonids produced such a storm of meteors that people across North America thought it was a portent of the end of times. Instead, it marked the beginning of “meteor shower science,” which led astronomers to understand that meteor showers, though named for the constellation in front of which their radiant appears, are caused by comets.
“Comet Temple-Tuttle has an orbital periodicity of 33 years, and won’t be seen again in our planetary system until 2031, but its meteor shower happens every year, and coincides with the time of year when many cultures celebrate a tradition of carrying lanterns out into the night, to stave off the early darkness of the season and the coming cold temperatures. I love to think of it as the Lion shaking out his starry mane. The Lion is often associated with courage and compassion and leadership,” said Headlands program Director Mary Stewart Adams.
The Leonids will not be diminished by moonlight this year since New Phase coincides nearly with the peak of the shower, which is after midnight. “Our program is really about preparing for the shower with observing the Leonid sky, hearing the stories of this shower, learning the science,” said Adams.
The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a 600-acre Emmet County Park situated on two miles of forested Lake Michigan shoreline and was designated in 2011 as the 6th International Dark Sky Park in the US and 9th in the world at the time.