Thanks to the darkness created from a nearly moonless night, conditions were particularly good late Friday and early Saturday morning for watching the annual Leonid meteor shower, one of the most famous meteor showers to annually ignite the sky.
The shower’s peak occurred early Saturday morning, when about 15 to 20 meteors ripped through the Earth’s atmosphere per hour, and photographer Travis Burke was in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park to capture all the action. Although the night was cloudy over the national park, the sky cleared for about 20 minutes just before dawn, and Burke was able to capture the above photo of five meteors soaring above a Juniper tree. “There were shooting stars everywhere and coming in from all directions,” he said.
Burke used a 60-second exposure to capture the photo, and he pointed the camera towards the constellation Leo, from which the Leonid meteor shower gets its name, as the falling stars seem to emanate from it.
Meteor showers are created when Earth collides with a comet’s dust, and the comet in question for the Leonid meteor shower is the Tempel-Tuttle, which completes its orbit around the sun every 33 years.
While the moon phase was particularly favorable for meteor viewing Friday night, this year’s shower was actually quite tame compared to what it can be during Tempel-Tuttle’s 33-year orbit. Indeed, scientists predict that in 2023 the Leonid meteor shower could produce thousands of meteors per hour.
The shower Friday night was also nothing compared to the Leonid’s most famous to date: the storm of 1833, which produced as many as 240,000 meteors over a short period, according to Space.com. The storm, which was particularly visible in the eastern U.S., caused people to congregate in the streets and many historical figures made note of it in their writings. It is said to have sparked the modern study of meteors.
Photo courtesy Travis Burke; you can see more of Travis’ travels and adventures by following his Instagram @TravisBurkePhotography