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11/18/2002

Leonid Storm

Filed under:General — eric @ 12:31 pm

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The Leonid meteor shower happens this time of year every year as the earth passes through a trail of dust left by the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet travels through space, it sheds dust behind it, and as this dust hits the earth’s atmosphere, it heats up and glows, becoming a “falling star”. This trail of dust is fairly thin, except for a tiny region along the exact path of the comet. Every 33 years or so, for several years in a row, the Earth passes through that narrow region and a brief but intense meteor storm occurs. Tonight, the earth will pass through two of these regions. The first can be seen from much of Europe and northern Africa, but the second, occuring between 5:30 and 5:45 EST, can be seen from all of North America. Under ideal viewing conditions, one may see several hundred meteors during those 15 minutes. The moon is full (but well away from the constellation Leo, where the meteors will seem to originate), so the dimmer ones will be washed out. Still, it out to be a spectacular show for those up to watch. Due to an unusual series of events during the next two cycles, storms of this intensity aren’t expected to return until 2131. For more information and viewing instructions, read this excellent Sky and Telescope article.