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Witnessing Leonid meoteor shower 'could be the best'

November 18, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Rod Martin plans to set his alarm clock to wake him at 4 or 4:30 Tuesday morning.

He'll be going outside to see if the Nov. 19 Leonid Meteor Shower lives up to his and other astronomers' expectations.

Last year's light show was the best he's ever seen - about 500 meteors per hour. He's looking forward to an even better show next week.

"It's like fireworks up there," he says.

Martin, Washington County resource teacher, is ground control at the William M. Brish Planetarium at the Washington County Board of Education offices on Commonwealth Ave. in Hagerstown. His understanding of the science behind the wonder of a meteor storm doesn't seem to diminish his excitement.

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So what is happening?

A comet, this one technically named 55/P Tempel-Tuttle, is trapped in its orbit around the sun. As it gets closer to the sun - every 33 years - Tempel-Tuttle's outer three to four feet vaporize, Martin says. When the Earth passes through those clouds of debris, people on the planet see the shower, Martin explains.

If you get yourself out of bed Tuesday morning - the peak will be between 5 and 5:30 - what you'll see will be the debris from the comet's 1866 passing.

We're just getting to it.

Martin compares the experience to driving a car - Earth - into a dust storm - the meteors.

Want to experience the natural light fantastic?

Get out of bed and go outside.

Face east, with the moon at your back. The moon, which will be full, will be setting by the shower's peak. It won't be too bright to hinder viewing of the shower, Martin expects.

Look about a third of the way up into the sky.

It's showtime!

The advance forecast for Tuesday is for partly cloudy skies, according to www.weather.com.

Partly cloudy is OK for viewing, Martin says.

By 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. the sun will be up, and the sky will be too bright to see much, Martin says.

"This could be the best Leonid shower for 100 years," Martin says. "It's only a couple of times in a lifetime kind of thing."

For information, Martin recommends these Web sites:

science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/09oct_leonidsforecast.htm

www.space.com/spacewatch/leonids_lowdown_021101.html

To learn about the Brish planetarium's programs, go to www.wcboe.k12.md.us/mainfold/curric/planetarium/index.html.

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