Imagine you give Dr Emmet “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean to an astronomer whose passion consist in observing shooting stars all night long. When would he drive back to the past? Very probably 50 years ago, on November 17, 1966, in Western Northern America 1!

1966 Leonid meteors recorded on a 10-12 minute exposure photography by A. Scott Murrell. Source: Sky & Telescope, November 1995, p. 30.

1966 Leonid meteors recorded on a 10-12 minute exposure photography by A. Scott Murrell. Source: Sky & Telescope, November 1995, p. 30.

On that night, the usually fixed sky turned out to be moving, from the Leonid radiant rise (short after midnight), until twilight. On that night, estimated zenith hourly rate for the Leonid meteor outburst range up to 80 000 meteors. Which means an astronomer in good observing conditions could spot up to 10 to 20 meteors PER SECOND! Not surprising it was remembered as an exceptional night by all people that was fortunate enough to observe this dramatic event. A nice compilation of witness testimonies has been published by Peter Jenniskens. Do not hesitate to take a few minutes to read them, and imagine what it could look like. If imagination is not enough, then try to make a simulation of such a meteor storm with MetSim software (developed by Sirko Molau). Install it, configure it, put your screen in the dark, and try to count meteors!

1966 Leonid meteors, showing the radiant effect that was discoveres 133 years ago, during the 1833 Leonid meteor storm. Picture by James W. Young from Table Mountain, California.

1966 Leonid meteors, showing the radiant effect that was discovered 133 years ago, during the 1833 Leonid meteor storm. Picture by James W. Young from Table Mountain, California.

Due to these spectacular events (other Leonid meteor storms occurred in the past, especially in 1833, 1999, 2001 and 2002), the Leonid meteor shower was one of those who helped the more researchers from the past (discovery of radiant, link between comet and meteor showers) and the present (improved accuracy in meteor outburst predictions) to understand the dynamics of meteoroids and the physics at the root of meteor showers. For example, we know now that the 1966 Leonid meteor storm was not linked to the fresh return of the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle to perihelion (which was believed until 1998), but from meteoroids released from the comet nucleus 66 years before, during the 1899 perihelion. And we know that a Leonid meteor storm is not expected to happen before 2033-2034…

Leonid shower radiant position in the sky. On the maximum night (November 17, 2016), it will be located in the middle of the loop representing Leo's head, and which looks like a starry question mark.

Leonid shower radiant position in the sky. On the maximum night (November 17, 2016), it will be located in the middle of the loop representing Leo’s head, and which looks like a starry question mark.

This year will be a classical Leonid year. ZHR should range around 15-20, and nothing exceptional is predicted. Furthermore, the waning gibbous moon will create severe light interference that will erase the dimmer meteors from the sky. But for those who wish to spend a few hours out to try to catch a few meteors per hour coming from 55P/Temple-Tuttle comet, do not hesitate! Leonids can be observed after 1 to 2 am local time, and best rates should be observed before twilight, when the radiant (located in the head of Leo) is higher in the sky. If you spot a meteor, and you want to know if it’s a Leonid or not, just remember that Leonids are part of the fastest observable meteors (their atmospheric entry velocity is 72 km/s), and should thus appear swift, and they apparent path in the sky should originate from Leo’s head (easy to recognize as it looks like backwards question mark). If a shooting star fits these two requirements, you observed a Leonid! Which is a distant brother of the meteoroids that caused the 1966 great show…

Clear skies!

1 other astronomers would also choose October 9, 1933, in Europe (Draconid meteor storm), or November 12-13, 1833, in Northern America again (Leonid meteor storm), depending on subjective preferences.


  • I witnessed it from Deep Springs that night.
    My friend Danny Ihara’s account on the NASA sit vastly understates the incredible effect.

    Reply to Doug Von Qualen
    • Fifteen or twenty of us were gathered on the lawn at the Hidden Valley Observatory just off Sturgis Road between Rapid City’s South Dakota and Black Hawk, SD. I was fourteen at the time. My 8th grade science teacher Ron Dyvig had encouraged a bunch of us into an interest in astronomy and making telescopes. He built the Badlands Observatory in Quinn, SD years later. We lay on the lawn in a circle and started counting. An hour in we just gave up. The meteors were still raining from a spot in the constellation Leowhen it started getting light. I remember my classmate Kent Stevens was there, my late mother Jean who drove me there, Kent now of Seaford, VA. It just rained meteors Nov. 17, 1966. It apparently had been quite cloudy over much of the country. Driving back into Rapid City, we listened to KOMA AM out of Oklahoma City. The disc jockey wanted to know who had seen it. I called him from our home and was put immediately on the air to tell my story. That was part of the reason I went into broadcasting. Anyway, that event is still one of the highlights of my life. It was like watching a giant rosette in the sky that lasted hours. Much longe r than what some say was just fifteen minutes. I feel I really witnessed history. Barry G. Wick, now of Coralville, Iowa. 319-519-9758,

      Reply to Barry G. Wick
  • My mother-in-law and I watched the meteor storm in 1966. We lived in Fayetteville,Arkansas. It was amazingly beautiful. I was only 20 years old at the time and she was terrified at the sight. Her comment was “The world is ending.” I hope to live long enough to see such a sight again.

    Reply to Rosann Honea
    • I grew up in Fayetteville but was living in Rolla Missouri when I saw this….I was actually woken from a deep sleep and found myself outside in the backyard, we lived on a farm so not many city lights, and it looked like every star I’d ever seen was falling or shooting across the sky….I guess I will never know what woke me that night but I’ll never forget it and always know I’m not alone…I was meant to see this and don’t know why!

      Reply to Suzanne Tucker
  • I was stationed at Wichita Falls AFB and was getting into breakfast formation at 430am. It was the most.facinatimg and exciting natural phenomenon I have ever seen. Hope I am alive to see the next big one in 2033.

    Reply to Jim Schneider
    • I was in Amarillo at the AF Base there in Basic training. It was a “Sign”..The End..Being 18 and in Basic we were cut off from the news so Had no idea this event was going to be happening. It was Over the Top Amazing to see if we only got to view it for 15 min or so.It was hard to get sleep that night Wondering what was going on. And again we heard no news the next day.

      Reply to Vince
      • I was in line for chow too waiting to go to Teletype School! Don’t remember your name Sam, but we may have been the same formation staring into the heavens while we were supposed to be at attention!

    • Jim , can you tell me about why 2033 will be the next iconic storm! We are the few and fortunate to have witnessed this incredible event.

      Reply to Carlos Romo
    • Jim I was stationed at fort Riley Kansas we were in formation around 5am when all of a sudden the sky seemed to have burst open and started raining stars.

      Reply to Bill
    • I was drafted into the Army and had basic training at Ft. Benning, Columbus Georgia. Early morning formation before sunrise. Most amazing thing I have ever seen.

      Reply to David
  • I was in Navy boot camp in San Diego. I had 2 – 4 AM duty guarding the clothesline – who would want to steal someone’s underwear? I looked up and was blown completely away. I likened it to raining stars. The closest I’ve come to describing it is driving an empty road in the dark with a heavy rain. As you drive the rain is seemingly coming horizontally briefly illuminated by the headlamps. The bad part was I’ve been ruined for subsequent meteor displays. It’s like, “Is that all you got, gee,will you look at the time. I think I hear the drying paint calling”.

    Reply to Larry Jones
  • It happens in Wichita Kansas 1966 my father who worked at Boeing woke me up from sleeping somewhere between 430 or 530 am as he was preparing for work told me to come look outside at the sky….it was the most spectacular event I have ever experienced. It was very cold outside the sky and stars were crystal clear… was as if every star was moving from every direction… was like a fireworks display continuously and nonstop , I stood there for at least 10 minutes freezing but I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky… was spectacular !!!!!!! it has spoiled me from any meteor showers since then……I have and never will forget this event….thanks to my dad Robert jackson Sr.

    Reply to Robert jackson
    • I was in basic training at Amarillo AFB. We were marching to breakfast a little after 4:00 a.m. Our Sgt. halted the march and we got to watch the meteor shower for about 10 minutes. It was unbelievable! I did look like every star in the sky was a “shooting star”. It was an event I’ll always remember. We saw the 2002 event also. It was impressive as well. About 150-300 meteors/ hour. But nothing can compare to the 1966 spectacular.

      Reply to Ned Piper
  • it’s me still….this event was still going strong as I went back into the house so I don’t know how long it lasted…..thank you lord for the opportunity …..

    Reply to Robert jackson
  • I was in basic training at Ft. Knox. We fell out for rev-ale and the stars were literally raining down for several minutes. Hundreds per second.

    Reply to John himes
  • In Midland, Texas, my dad woke me up around 5 a.m. and told me to come outside. I asked why, and he said, “Just come outside, you’ll see.” I reluctantly got out of my warm bed and went out the back door to see my dad standing on the patio and looking up at the sky. I followed his gaze upwards and could not believe what I was seeing. I asked what it was but he said he didn’t know. We stood for a long time watching what reminded me of driving at night in a snow storm. Too many shooting stars to count! I turned 14 two days later and still remember this experience like it happened yesterday. I love to describe it to people, but I know it is hard to imagine if you didn’t see it. I am so thankful to my dad, Roy Heptinstall, for getting me out of my warm bed to see the such a fabulous and memorable sight.

    Reply to Marsha Manning
    • hi Marsha just read your information on your experience the morning of the great shower….we were both the same age and woken by our fathers, and pretty much. Responded with the exact same attitude and words didn’t want get out of my toasty bed either…..and you know the rest….will never ever forget it…love telling the story but if you didn’t see it with your own eyes….well you know what I’m getting at….makes me smile every time I tell it to my wife….may the force be with you…..Robert

      Reply to Robert Jackson
  • I was 12 years old and together with my mother and two brothers were driving through the desert of Arizona. The sky was clear and perfect for viewing. It was an amazing sight to see, and it has ruined every meteor shower since then for me. I keep hoping to see another one even close to the meteor shower that night. Everywhere you looked, you could see multiple simultaneous streaks in the sky. We turned on the radio to make sure it wasn’t the apocalypse, and the announcer kept shouting and telling people to go outside and see it. When we had to stop for gas, the lights of the gas station washed out the viewing, so we hurried to get back on the road. We continued to watch it and be amazed until dawn arrived and ended the show. It was absolutely unforgettable.

    Reply to David Guidos
  • I was at Fort Sill OK going thru Officer Candidate School and at Reveille one morning we were awakened to see the Sky Falling. It was about 5:00AM. It was a perfect moonless morning with no light pollution from a large city. They say that there was an average of 40 shooting stars a SECOND. I disagree. More like 400 per Second! The sky was alive! This amazing event continued as the sun rose. You could still make out dozens a second. I set my alarm for 1:00AM for the Leonids, but being in the LA area I’m lucky to see one shooting star in 10 minutes. However if there is a repeat of the 1966 event I will be waking everybody on my contact list.

    Reply to JIM
    • Jim, I was also in OCS at Ft Sill in November 1966, Class 27-66. We were only a few days from graduation and on the Escape & Evasion exercise out somewhere in the outbacks of Ft Sill. My group was completely lost and it was a totally dark night with no moon. When the shower began, it was frightening. We had never seen anything like it. Thousands of meteors seemingly coming from a single point in the dark sky. Reminded me of a sparkler with all the sparks flying out from the core. Never had I seen the likes of that before and the only thing close since then was Puff and Spooky in operation at night in Vietnam!

      Reply to Clarence Mathis
    • Jim, I was also in OCS at Ft Sill in November 1966, Class 27-66. We were only a few days from graduation and on the Escape & Evasion exercise out somewhere in the outbacks of Ft Sill. My group was completely lost and it was a totally dark night with no moon. When the shower began, it was frightening. We had never seen anything like it. Thousands of meteors seemingly coming from a single point in the dark sky. Reminded me of a sparkler with all the sparks flying out from the core. Never had I seen the likes of that before and the only thing close since then was Puff and Spooky in operation at night in Vietnam! My correct email is Clarence Mathis

      Reply to Jody Redleg
  • I was curious if this event was documented so looked it up. Yes was amazing!! Was at Fort Sill Oaklahoma
    for AIT training, we were in morning formation, Hope I can see the next on.

    Reply to Jac Curp
  • I was 15 years old and got up at 2:30 AM to deliver newspapers on my paper route in Beaumont Texas. As soon as I stepped out the door I saw the night sky covered, it seemed, with falling stars! I just stood there for the longest watching thousands of meteors shooting through the sky. They were falling like rain in every direction I turned. Most were white in color, but I saw many that appeared to be red and green. All that morning, until the sun began to rise about 6AM, I watched the sky while I attempted to pedal my bike without running into anything.

    While folding my papers with other boys, we all sat and watched the sky in silence, wondering what it all meant. One boy said it meant that the world was coming to an end. While delivering my papers, I came upon two police officers sitting on the hood of their vehicle and watching the sky. I asked them what was happening and they stated they did not know. One told me to enjoy the sight and to remember it, as he doubted we would ever see anything like it again.

    Ever since, I keep hoping that it will happen again as it is impossible to describe the sight I was blessed to see to my children and grand children.

    Reply to Bryant Waddell
  • My dad worked @ Phelps Dodge as a tow motor operator , he went in @ 6 but always up by 5 . So when he went outside to start the truck he saw what was going on . My dad woke me up and took me outside after he tried and failed to wake up my older brother and sister . He took me up in his arms and we went outside where my mom was already waiting with her hand to her mouth in disbelief . I could not believe what I was witnessing ! Every where you looked stars were falling . The best way I could describe it was also rain falling, and snow falling, , but to me it’s as if someone was holding one of those long skinny sparklers that we enjoyed on the 4th of July right above us ! It’s the most spectacular , awesome , sight I’ve ever witnessed ! Here in El Paso back then you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face . You could see the milky way galaxy as if you were there ,when you saw a falling star it was actually rotating as it burned out and fell but that morning we saw something powerful and special ! We all are lucky and fortunate that we were there. I have no one in my city that remembers this , only my mom but she dosen’t get as excited as I do . Every year after that I’ve watched and waited and waited for another storm again but nothing will ever , ever top that morning for me .
    Charlie Romo
    El Paso Tx.

    Reply to Carlos Romo
    • Hello Carlos- I’m also from El Paso. I am 61 yrs. old and I also witnessed that incredible morning in 1966. My uncle woke me and my sister up around 4 am and we just sat outside for about an hour looking up to the sky in total disbelief. The whole sky seemed like a 4th of July celebration, but in white. For the past 54 years I’ve had trouble with people believing my phenomenal experience. Now I have you as a witness. Thanks!

      Reply to Luis Ontiveros
      • Wow that’s so cool , that was amazing wasn’t it . I even have a book that is only about the annual Leonids meteor shower! Glad to hear that we’re not alone. I’ve always wondered if that’s the last thought that will be on my mind before I die . That’s how much of a impression that night left on me .

  • I too was 18 year old recruit stationed at Sheppard AFB for technical training as an aircraft mechanic. This morning after 5am breakfast, we were marched to the flight line fir training inside huge hangers. As we waited outside on a fridgid morning in Nov. and in twilight we looked up and saw these shiny stars racing across the sky. There were so many we could not believe it. WE ALL SAT DOWN AND ENDED UP ON OUR BACKS LOOKING AT THIS SPECTACULAR SIGHT. IT WAS SIMPLY INDESCRIBEABLE !!!

    • We are so lucky or blessed to have witnessed this truly wonderful amazing experience. I know that before I die that storm will be the last memory I will have !

      Reply to Carlos Romo
    • I, too, was at Sheppard AFB. ‘A’ shift so we were falling out betw 0400 & 0430 hrs. I had always been very interested in astronomy. The Leonid storm that morning burned into my memory; I was so thankful to have witnessed a monumental event.

      Reply to Ron Gag
  • I was 10. An early rising neighbor called our house to wake us up. It was spectacular. There wasn’t any waiting to see them. They were everywhere. Later in the morning, absolutely no one at school was talking about it. I wished my friends could have seen it. I don’t think that meteor storm can be described, only remembered.

    Reply to John Cook
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    Reply to Genia
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    Reply to Kurtis
  • My Mother and Father had a discussion to decide if they should wake my sister and me. I was 9 and my sister was 12 and we are so thankful they made the decision to wake us up and take us outside to experience it – – It was truly phenomenal. As we stood there in our pajamas looking up into the sky we questioned what was happening. It appeared as if the sky was falling with too many shooting stars to even begin to count. It is certainly something that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’ve shared the experience with many people over the years but never met anyone that witnessed it first hand. I consider myself one of the lucky ones!

    Reply to Donna Williams
  • I was on my yacht Dauntless sailing to the Marquesas, and I watched this spectacular Meteor storm for 3-4 hours that night. My brother and I were North of the Equator, about halfway from Panama to Japan, and the Armed Force Radio Network reported in the morning that we were in fact in the absolutely best position on earth to witness this rare storm. I kept thinking the ‘fireworks’ would end at any moment, so I didn’t wake by brother to witness this spectacle. When it was mentioned on our short wave radio in the morning, My brother said “boy that would have been spectacular to see!” I replied “it was, and it lasted for hours”. He said “why didn’t you wake me up?”, and I told him I thought it would have ended if I woke him.
    Every year at this time, I remind him it’s time to look skyward, and the Leonard Meteors are coming again. It’s been a long standing joke between us.

    Reply to William Errol Christen
  • My Mom saw the 1966 Leonids. She was 8 years old. Her older brother woke the entire family because he didn’t understand what was happening to the sky. They lived in Bullard, Texas. She vividly remembers it to this day.

    Reply to Angela Nowicki
  • If this happened in 1966, I was almost 10 years old. My mother woke my little brother and I up and took us by the hand out to the front yard to see it. It was AMAZING!! I never knew what it was until this year. It was definitely like rain! Thousands per second!

    Reply to Lori Walking Eagle
  • wonderful post, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this sector do not understand this.
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    Reply to Niki

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