Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle
and the Leonid Meteor Shower

Updated for the 1999 Leonid Shower

T-T Feb 19 Image 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.

History of Comet Tempel-Tuttle
History of Tempel-Tuttle's discovery and previous apparitions. Details about the 1997 recovery, the January 1998 close approach, and the general orbital geometry.
Meteor Showers and their Relation to Comets
Comets, meteors and meteor showers: How are they related? How are they different?
The Leonid Meteor Shower
Brief discussion of the Leonid meteor shower, including a summary of the 1998 shower and predictions for 1999 and beyond.
Tempel-Tuttle Research at Lowell Observatory
Comet Tempel-Tuttle is being observed from Lowell Observatory. What observations are being made and what will they tell us about the comet? Includes images obtained at Lowell during the 1998 apparition.
Related Links

Last modified: November 4, 1999