Airborne Leonids Meteor Storm Campaign
Astrobiologists on a NASA mission to study the Leonid meteors were in the right place at the right time to study a rare natural phenomenon -- a meteor storm. At the peak of the storm, which occurred at 02:10 GMT, Nov. 18, the Leonid meteors were falling from the sky at a rate of 2,200 per hour. A total of 15,251 meteors were counted during the six-hour observation period on the overnight flight from Israel to the Azores.
Near real-time data on the number of meteors falling per hour was provided to NASA and the U.S. Air Force by a team of amateur astronomers who counted the meteors using virtual reality goggles and laptop computers. The meteor counting team was aboard the ARIA, one of two aircraft provided by the United States Air Force to support this mission. The data was sent from the ARIA, an EC-18 aircraft, to the ground via the TDRS satellite system. NASA and the Air Force are joint sponsors of the Leonid Multi-instrument Airborne Campaign.
The second observing night of the Leonid astrobiology mission began when the ARIA and FISTA aircraft left Tel Aviv at about 23:00 GMT, Nov. 18. The flight crew of the ARIA reported seeing two meteors almost as soon as the wheels left the ground. Once the planes reached altitude, they began flying in 150 nautical mile flying patterns from east to west over Israel and the Mediterranean. These orbits provided a unique opportunity for scientists on the planes and scientists on the ground to collaborate. The data collected from the planes will be combined with visual, radar and radio observation data from Israeli scientists on the ground to form an extremely comprehensive data set regarding the Leonid meteors.
The aircraft stopped the orbits after one hour and continued westbound towards the Azores, flying approximately 80-100 nautical miles apart at 37,000 feet. ARIA's path flew the scientists off the coast of Crete and over Sicily, while FISTA's path flew over mainland Greece and the boot of Italy. ARIA then flew over the top of Menorca and Majorca, crossed central Spain by Madrid, and continued over the top of Portugal down to the Azores.