|False color image of comet Tempel-Tuttle taken on February 19, 1998. A tail can be seen extending in the anti-solar direction. The comet was 0.98 AU from the sun and 1.22 AU from the Earth. (See the T-T Research section for other images.)|
Comet Tempel-Tuttle is an inherently faint and typically unspectacular comet that has only been observed on a few apparitions over the past 600 years. Its most recent apparition was in 1998, when it reached perihelion on February 28. As expected, it showed little activity, and only a small tail (see image above).However, further inspection shows that this comet is more interesting than the first glance suggests. Its orbit is oriented in such a way that the comet makes a relatively close approach to the Earth every few apparitions. The 1998 apparition was one such case, when the comet passed within 0.36 AU (33 million miles) of the Earth on January 17. More importantly for the casual sky observer is the fact that Tempel-Tuttle is associated with the Leonid meteor shower, which has historically been very spectacular in the few years after T-T passes perihelion. The 1998 Leonid shower, as predicited, proved to be very unpredictable. Although there was no true meteor storm, the meteor shower provided a great show, with a large number of very bright fireballs. The peak of the shower occurred about 15 hours ahead of the predicted time, with a typical peak of about 300 meteors per hour.
Last modified: November 4, 1999