John Pazmino
 2001 November 19
[Original 2-part posting combined with minor editing]
    Arline Caldwell, her son David, a couple local friends, and I saw 
this 2001 running of the Leonids from Arline's beachhouse, Camp 
Caldwell, in the predawn of Sunday 18 November 2001. Yep, we got a 
storm, alright, from the Leonids this year! Not as strong as what the 
folk in the western Pacific got, but still a really good downpour of 
    We planned for this watch a few weeks ago, figuring to stay only 
on the one night of the predicted peak. David was already at the 
beachhouse, minding it for the summer and overseeing various repairs. 
He hosted us, so to speak, and picked Arline and me up at Amagansett 
station on the Long Island Railroad in mid afternoon on Saturday the 
17th of November. Here so far on the island, over 2-1/2 hours from 
Penn Station by train, we were a mite closer to Boston than to the 
    The rest of that afternoon was spent making house in the annex, a 
winterized cabin on her property and a lazy sunset walk along 
Asparagus Beach. The sky was rapidly covering over with clouds welling 
up from the west! The Sun sank into them, severely tempered in 
brilliance. Altho I looked carefully, there were no solar halo 
    We then scouted out a viewing site, of which there were plenty in 
this flat oceanfront section of Long Island. We picked the very 
beachhouse deck for its elevation above nearby shrubbery and the 
handiness of deck furniture to sit on or prop up as windbreaks. 
    We refreshed with a sandwich brunch and, in early evening, a 
Chinese supper. There was little stargazing in evening due to clouds 
and haze. My aspirations to inspect Vesta, comet LINEAR, and watch our 
for any Andromedids were dashed. Not even the Moon was appetizing thru 
the clouds. I brought full observing and photography gear and ended up 
not using it! In fact, as I tell you later, we skipped all telescope 
and camera work during the Leonids! 
    A nightscope I hauled along to mess around with (the Camp is in a 
nature conservation area) brought out lots of the little stars in the 
fall skies -- including the large oval of the Andromeda galaxy and 
peppering along the Milky Way -- but it also enlarged the background 
illumination of the clouds. 
    After supper we went to sleep with the alarm set to 3:30 AM EST. 
First, we were sleepy! Secondly, Leo, whatever the predictions say, 
has to be high enough above the horizon for us to start facing into 
the meteors. We told David's friends to come around at 4 AM and meet 
us on the deck. 
    We awoke at 3:30, bundled up against a chilly night, and walked to 
the beachhouse, a short 20 meter amble. In the moment en route, we 
spotted several nice bright Leonids! The shower was already in 
    The sky cleared up wonderfully, with a good winter Milky Way and 
lots of stars all over. Leo was front and center over the ocean with 
frequent meteors spitting out from its Sickle. As we walked and looked 
around, we saw meteors in the west, north, east, south, overhead!! 
    We did not load up on clothes. We wore normal fall or mild winter 
coats. The scheme was to nest in the deckchairs on pillows (for 
cushioning) and blankets wrapped around us. David Caldwell had readied 
a supply of pillows and blankets for all of us; we each took what we 
needed for comfort and settled in for the show. 
    There was no need for windbreaks. The breeze from the north and 
northeast was tempered by the house behind us. The blanket wrapping 
was entirely sufficient. 
    Three of David's local friends showed up quite at 4 AM, with us 
well into the meteor watch. These three already saw many meteors when 
they left their own homes and on the road to Camp Caldwell. One woman 
was a casual stargazer and I helped her orient in the sky. She knew 
the brighter stars but forgot which planet that was in Gemini. She 
pointed out Leo and I aimed her toward the radiant. 
    The six of us deployed on the beachhouse deck, with light & easy 
music flowing from a CD player within the house. The nearby surf 
pounded and groaned. Bang! A large long meteor! Boom! An other one! 
Whizz! There's a third one! 
    We hung leftover blankets over the doors and windows of the 
beachhouse so when people stepped inside to warm up and get coffee or
snack, the interior lights won't blind us. It would have been tough to 
tutor the four nonastronomers against excessive use of lights. After 
several minutes outside, they were surprised at how well they could 
see by the natural sky light. I explained it was not so natural; there 
was some luminous graffiti on this far end of the Island. 
    This was a downpour! Within a few minutes we caught among us a 
dozen bright Leonids!! They were all first or brighter magnitude! All 
were yellow or yellow-white, of assorted trail lengths, and more or 
less regular meteors. I, due to general experience, saw an 
undercurrent of fainter meteors, of somewhat less frequency as the 
bright ones. 
    Occasionally we got two at once or in quick sequence in closely 
the same track. We got a few that left enduring smoke trails. One 
sliced into Caput Hydrae with a long-lasting smoke puff. Ms Caldwell 
could still see it with binoculars for half a minute. Then an other 
meteor shot by to distract her and we lost notice of this trail. 
    Once in a while we got a meteor that lighted the ground like a 
flashbulb! They dazzled the eyes of those who were facing them and 
startled those who at the instant were looking elsewhere. Yet we 
didn't see any that really exploded. Even the most brilliant ones, and 
those leaving smoke trails, merely flared up and quickly died out in 
one piece, like exaggerated regular meteors. 
    With this celestial pyrotechnics, we never got around to playing 
with the camera or telescope! We didn't want to miss anything! I did 
prepare the camera for widefield pictures before turning in for the 
night several hours earlier. With the several people milling around, 
(plus Dave's large pet dog) I left the rig out of harm's way near the 
annex. We did pass around Arline's binoculars to spot some clusters 
and asterisms. 
    There were simply too many meteors to keep a separate note of 
each! I cut charts to plot paths; I didn't bother even to bring them 
out on the deck! In general, all quadrants around the radiant got 
about equal numbers of meteors except for a wedge south and southeast 
of the Sickle. This region, as clear and open as any other, seemed to 
have far fewer meteors. 
    I note here that our sky exposure was from Corona Borealis on the 
eastern horizon, thru northern Bootes, Big Dipper, Lynx, Gemini, 
Auriga, Taurus, to Orion in the west. The zone north of this arc was 
blocked by the beachhouse. 
    When I took a rest, I did step around the house to scan the north. 
Nope, no aurorae. Just a few more Leonids! Oh, yes, we caught several 
erratics, as well. These were just as interesting as the real McCoy. 
    At one point I realized there were very few dim meteors. We were 
calling out to each other lots of the bright ones, several per 
minute!, but no really dim ones. There was a flux of second magnitude 
meteors, which the others did not call out about. I ignore them for 
the excitement of the numerous brilliant ones, so many could easily 
have passed without me consciously noting them. Adding these in the 
observed hourly rate would be 300 or so per hour. 
    As I mused about this feature, suddenly on impulse I grabbed the 
nightscope. I fired it at Caput Hydrae. There in the amplified view 
several faint meteors of 4th and 5th magnitude flew by. They looked 
just like the bright ones seen by eye. 
    Then I figured that I may be seeing some peculiar optical effect 
inside my eye. So I fired the scope just east of the Beehive cluster. 
Same thing, but in a new direction of flow, away from Leo. I didn't 
actually time the meteors but my gut feeling was that this subcurrent 
was four or five per minute. This was within just the 10 degree field 
of the scope!! 
    A third check in Coma Berenices showed a similar flux against the 
amplified stars of that cluster. I believe this is a real amplified 
view of meteors and not some weird spurious image inside the eye or 
generated by the nightscope. 
    After I got home I guesstimated the total flux in all directions 
of this background meteor flow. I allowed that many of the meteors 
skirted the edge of the scope field and may be uncertainly seen. I 
count only the ones crossing thru the middle, say three per minute. 
Caput Hydrae and the Beehive are 20ish degrees from the radiant. The 
circumference of this circle, factoring in the skydome curvature, is 
123 degrees. This is filled by 12.3 of the 10-degree fields of the 
scope. I come up with, gasp!, 36.9 of these fainter meteors per 
minute! Or, yikes!, 2,221 per hour!! 
    This Leonid showing was stupendous! Among the bright meteors, 
first magnitude and brighter, we were getting about 200 per hour!! 
There genuinely were three and, repeatedly, four per minute!!! 
    All of us started to notice a peculiar conical wedge of luminous 
graffiti in the southeast at about 5 AM EST or so. The others were 
puzzled because this direction is over the Atlantic Ocean with no 
known sources of illumination. Perhaps some fishing boat was 
approaching? After many minutes I found that this wedge was indeed 
rising with the stars. more over, its axis was aligned with the 
    This was no humanmade luminous graffiti! It was nature's light 
pollution, the zodiacal light! The apex was near gamma Virginis with 
the base laid along the horizon. It struck me as being unusually 
large, with the Sun then being near Antares. Yet it held its shape 
thru into dawn. 
    There was an additional luminous band very dim and inconsistently 
visible, in the ecliptic from the apex of the zodiacal light to the 
west. It never reached as far as Regulus, feathering out in the Lion's 
belly. It came and went with some of us not even sure we actually were 
seeing it. This I figure was the zodiacal band. I myself saw it only 
from the edge of my vision. Looking straight at it made it vanish. 
    The rate seemed to ramp up from 4 AM to 5 AM; this may come from 
the rotation of our site to more directly face into the meteors. It 
was too gentle to be the sharp upspike in flux supposed for this peak 
of activity. Starting about 5:20 we began to see a distinct falloff in 
meteors. We had to wait longer and longer between each shooting star. 
Dawn was breaking, yes, but the sky overhead and in the west was still 
    By 5:40 the sky was veiling out too many stars, to reliably 
describe the meteor tracks. At 5:45 we called it a night. David and 
his friends went to the beach to watch the sunrise; Arline and I went 
to sleep pretty immediately. 
    David eventually came back and hit the sack, for we all awoke at 
the same 10 AM. We sprang alive with a breakfast of eggs, toast, and 
sausage. The day of Sunday the 18th was actually warm! We went about 
outside without coats, at least for short walks. Then we lazed away 
with assorted Sunday newspapers and books until the afternoon train 
back to the City.