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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Astronomers believe meteors will provide show of a lifetime

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The Leonid meteor showers, among the biggest shows in the heavens, will blast across Hawai'i skies tomorrow night, and if you don't see them this year, there won't be as good a chance again in your lifetime, astronomers say.

A Leonid meteor streaked across the sky over Mount Fuji in 2001. Astronomers predict Tuesday's shower will be the best chance to see them in our lifetime.

Associated Press

"Even with the full moon, this year's Leonids will probably be better than any other for the next hundred years," said Dr. Don Yeomans, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Hawai'i viewers can count on their best show tomorrow night (actually, Tuesday morning) from midnight to 1 a.m., with reduced activity continuing until 3 a.m.

Mike Shanahan, Bishop Museum's Planetarium manager, said the moon's light will make it difficult to see many of the fainter meteors.

"That said, many of the Leonid meteors are bright and may hold their own with the moon and the murk," he said. "So we could see an average, say, of one per minute during the peak, 12:15 a.m. onwards on November 19. Leonid shooting stars are very fast moving (158,000 mph) and often leave vapor trails in the sky, some of which last for up to five minutes. Leonids can be very bright, and tinged with blue or green hues."

The Leonids are fragments of dust from the comet Tempel Tuttle's pass near the sun in 1866. The dust cloud is moving away from Earth, so they won't be as visible in coming years.

They get the name Leonid because most appear to come from the direction of the constellation Leo, which will rise in the east-northeast. This year, an easier pointer may be the planet Jupiter, which will be lying close to Leo. Jupiter will rise about midnight, and will be the brightest light in the heavens, after the Moon, until Venus rises.

For best viewing, Shanahan suggests finding a spot with a clear view of the eastern horizon and sky. The museum won't be holding a special viewing, because its view to the east is blocked by the Ko'olau mountains and the clouds that often sit over them.

For details, visit the Bishop Museum Planetarium Web site, where the "November Skywatch" has additional information on the Leonid shower. NASA has an informative Web site.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.