posted on Nov, 18 2002 @ 10:45 AM
Meteor storm promises celestial fireworks
Leonid expected to produce up to 20 to 30 shooting stars a minute
FROM CANADIAN PRESS
A celestial fireworks display is expected to keep backyard astronomers and scientists alike awake overnight nationwide Monday for what is thought will
be the last great meteor storm for close to a century.
The much-anticipated Leonid meteor storm is expected to produce as many as 20 to 30 shooting stars a minute on Monday night and into the early morning
hours Tuesday as Earth passes through the debris trail of the Tempel-Tuttle comet.
"It will be very spectacular," said Peter Brown, an astronomy professor at the University of Western Ontario.
"We won't see another major Leonid show until the end of the 21st century."
Brown and his colleagues will be conducting experiments Monday night using radar and television systems to try to forecast the intensity of future
Others, however, will drive out to darkened country fields and huddle together on lawn chairs and under blankets to observe a fantastic light show
that will be the last chance for many to see anything like it in their lives.
"Just seeing that many meteors in the sky ˇ it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Richard Huziak.
The 45-year-old amateur astronomer plans to stay awake all night to drink in the show with about a dozen other members of the Saskatoon centre of the
Royal Astronomy Society of Canada.
Even though he admits his work might suffer Tuesday, he doesn't mind missing one good night's sleep for such a spectacular celestial event.
"Sometimes you just skip a day of sleep if there's something to see. Everyone could survive 48 hours without sleep if they have to," said Huziak,
who works by day for a Saskatoon aerospace company.
Last year, during a similarly breathtaking meteor shower, he awoke his 13-year-old daughter and dragged her outside for a look.
"She got up in the middle of the night and got dressed and she complained about it ˇ until she got out there. She was just awestruck," said
"I know of people who took their entire families out."
While predictions put this year's storm as even more intense than last year's Leonid display, the sheen may be dulled by the full moon. The bright
light cast by the moon will interfere with the view by making the dimmer meteors invisible to the naked eye.
Even so, it is thought this will be a brilliant display. And because it will peak over night skies in Europe some six to eight hours before it is
visible here, North Americans will know in advance whether to plan their night around it.
"If they see what is predicted, then we'll see what is predicted. We'll have a heads up," said Huziak, who plans to consult the Internet before
heading out to star-gaze.
And while telescopes won't help the view ˇ the moving meteors are difficult to pinpoint through the lens ˇ a common household item can add another
level to the experience.
Using a radio tuned to an FM station normally out of range, amateur astronomers can actually hear the meteors falling, Huziak said. The trail left
behind by passing meteors will bounce radio signals back to Earth offering short bursts of sound out of the static from hundreds of kilometres
Huziak recommends choosing a station broadcast from several hundred kilometres away for best results.
"The guys around here are using Winnipeg or Calgary or Edmonton as a base. FM doesn't travel very far so if you can get a frequency for a station
about that far away, you can use that as your target."
The Leonid meteor shower is named for the constellation Leo, from which it appears to radiate. The Tempel-Tuttle comet last passed through the inner
solar system in 1998.
It will be clearly visible across Canada, but weather permitting, the best view is to be had from southwestern Ontario. There, the storm will be at
its highest point in the night sky during its peak intensity between 4 and 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Star-gazers in the eastern time zone should expect to begin seeing meteors after 11 p.m. Monday when the Leonid storm crests the horizon.
The next spectacular Leonid shower won't occur until 2099.
The particles, or meteorids, move so quickly they can puncture solar panels, smash mirrors and short-out electronics on any of the more than 500
satellites in orbit around the planet. While it is a possibility, this storm is not expected to interfere with communications systems.