Monday, November 16, 2009
One of my most memorable stargazing nights was in the mountains of Maui in November of 2001 where I saw hundreds of streaks across the sky in a few hours. We had passed thru a cloud of debris that was created by the comet in 1766, according to NASA. These spectacular meteors are created by the sand size particles left over by the comet.
This year's Leonid meteor shower will peak early Tuesday, forecasters say, producing mild but pretty sparks over the United States and a more intense outburst over Asia.
"We're predicting 20 to 30 meteors per hour over the Americas and as many as 200 to 300 per hour over Asia," said Bill Cooke, of NASA's meteoroid environment office. "Our forecast is in good accord with ... work by other astronomers."
The Leonid shower is made of bits of debris from the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which streaks through Earth's inner solar system every 33 years.
It leaves a stream of debris in its wake. Forecasters, however, say it's hard to know exactly how many of the meteors will be visible.
"We can predict when Earth will cross a debris stream with pretty good accuracy," Cooke said. "The intensity of the display is less certain, though, because we don't know how much debris is in each stream."
The first stream will cross over Earth about 4 a.m. ET. That stream should produce about two or three dozen meteors per hour over North America, NASA said.