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STARGAZING

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Leonid Meteor Shower

 

The 2002 Leonid Meteor Shower promises a memorable show in the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 19th. A storm of shooting stars and possible bright fireballs will zoom across the heavens in a dazzling array that may not be repeated for another hundred years.

Begin looking between midnight Monday, November 18, and sunrise on Tuesday, November 19th. An early morning outburst is expected to generate a sharp peak of activity around 5:30 a.m. EST Tuesday morning. Face east and locate Leo for whom the Leonids are named. Scan the eastern skies overhead. Lie on a lawn chair or mat to save yourself a strained neck.

The meteors are small particles of fast moving dust shed by Comet Temple-Tuttle. The early morning peak consists of escaped debris when the comet rounded the sun back in 1866. Astronomers predict that this year we may plow into a much thicker than usual trail of debris. Some are even saying this may possibly be the best meteor storm of the century.

The Leonids are the fastest of all meteors and enter our Earth's atmosphere traveling at speeds over 158,00 miles per hour. Most of the material is about the size of sand grains. At these immense speeds, both the particle and the air surrounding it glow, producing the phenomenon known as a meteor.

Special circumstances this year could lead to the appearance of Earth-grazing meteors, millimeter size particles whizzing through the atmosphere parallel to its surface. Observers should see frequent meteors with especially long tails.

To make the most of this year's Leonid meteor storm, plan to observe from a dark location. The moon will be nearly full but its effect can be minimized by finding a spot where a tall obstruction such as a tree or building can be used to block the moon shining in the west.

Plan to wake up early on Tuesday morning, November 19. Dress warmly, lie back, and look up as the heavens work their magic. Happy stargazing!

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