Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1998-1999 index

Distributed November12, 1998
Contact: Scott Turner

Two expert interview sources

Leonid meteor shower could be a major storm this year

The annual Leonid meteor showers are especially heavy every 33 years. Although this month's display, Nov. 16-18, will most likely be viewed best in Eastern Asia, local skywatchers may see up to 60 per hour.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Two local meteorite-shower experts are available today and tomorrow (Thursday and Friday, Nov. 12-13) for interviews about the Leonid meteor shower.

Every 33 years, the annual Leonid meteor shower turns into a major storm. During past major storms, the Leonids have peaked at 100,000 per hour, compared to up to 100 meteors per hour for Autumn's annual Perseid shower. Predictions for this year's Leonids range from 60 per hour to a peak of 100,000 per hour.

However, astronomers predict that such an intense peak, if it occurs, will be visible only from Eastern Asia. Skywatchers in the United States may see meteors at a rate of about 20 to 60 meteors per hour, but nobody can be certain.

"Although the earth is about to slam into a major area of debris that will cause a major meteor shower, the magnitude of this event and even the timing of it is anybody's guess," said David Targan, astronomy professor and director of the Ladd Observatory. "Since some of the better predictions call for the event to occur midday on the 17th (of November), it is likely that no major event will be visible from Providence. On the other hand, it is probably worth looking at the sky on the mornings of the 18th and 19th."

Targan suggests that the best time to see the meteors will be from 3 a.m. until dawn, Nov. 17, and possibly the same times Nov. 18th and 19th.

Today and tomorrow, Targan and Peter Schultz, a meteorite impact specialist, will be available for interviews about the annual Leonid meteor shower. Both have taught and spoken about the phenomenon. However, both will be out of town Nov. 17-19. Targan will be with students in New Mexico, observing the meteors.

The meteors will be visible in any part of the sky that is dark, Targan said. The best views will be with the naked eye, away from streetlights and preferably away from any major urban setting.

"Chances are that you will see at least a few meteors, although nobody knows whether you will see the meteor storm that some astronomers are predicting," Targan said. Because glare will interfere with observing the meteors, Ladd Observatory will be closed; its staff is planning to view the sky from dark locations away from Providence.

At the moment, the meteor shower is concerning those in the aerospace industry because it is possible that a meteoroid may strike a satellite, possibly disrupting communications in parts of the world, Targan said. Because of this threat, both NASA and several private communications firms are reorienting some of their satellites. Astronomers working with the Hubble Telescope are placing it in a configuration that will present the least surface area to incoming debris, particularly to protect the primary 94" mirror, he said.

To contact Targan or Schultz, please call the News Bureau at (401) 863-2476. For more information on the annual Leonid meteor shower, Targan suggests checking these Websites: