Monday, November 16, 2009

Meteor shower

Well-placed skywatchers could see hundreds of meteors an hour on Tuesday, at the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower.

Meteors are bits of dust or rock that collide with Earth's atmosphere. The friction heats up gas particles that produce a glowing trail. A handful of meteors can be seen each hour on any clear night, but this number can spike significantly during a meteor shower.

The Leonid shower occurs each year when the Earth passes through streams of debris ejected by the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which often leaves behind dusty trails as it passes through the inner solar system every 33 years.

Earth will cut across the first such stream around 0900 GMT on 17 November, an event that is expected to produce dozens of meteors an hour. But the spectacle will reach its peak between 2100 and 2200 GMT, as Earth passes through two debris trails left by Tempel-Tuttle in 1466 and 1533.


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