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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Did you make a wish?

The UA Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is hosting an event tonight atop the mountain where audience members can view the Leonid Meteor Shower. The meteor shower is happening because the Earth is passing through the debris of a past comet. Debris and dust from the comet vaporizes in the Earth?s atmosphere and creates the illusion of ?shooting stars?.
The UA Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is hosting an event tonight atop the mountain where audience members can view the Leonid Meteor Shower. The meteor shower is happening because the Earth is passing through the debris of a past comet. Debris and dust from the comet vaporizes in the Earth?s atmosphere and creates the illusion of ?shooting stars?.

Carl Hergenrother is a senior research specialist in the UA lunar and planetary laboratory. He received his undergraduate degree in atmospheric sciences from the UA in 1997 and has discovered four comets and thousands of asteroids throughout his career.

The Daily Wildcat discussed this week’s Leonid meteor shower with Hergenrother. The meteor shower will take place Tuesday and Wednesday morning of this week when the Earth passes through 500 year old dust particles that were left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The UA Steward Observatory is hosting a guided program for the shower at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter this evening. 

Can you tell me about the meteor shower going on the next couple of nights?

The meteor shower is called “”Leonids.”” It’s small dust particles that are released by a particular comet — in this case a comet called Tempel-Tuttle. That’s the comet name and the comet comes around every 33 years and every time it comes close to the sun it heats up and the ice that’s on the comet sublimates, then turns to gas and kind of blows off the surface of the comet kind of like a geyser — just like Old Faithful in Yellowstone — and as the ice does that, it carries dust particles. So every time the comet comes around every 33 years, it leaves behind this trail of dust particles. So what’s going on over the next couple of nights is the earth will be going through trails of dust particles that were released by the comet almost 500 years ago.

Unfortunately in order to see the best show, a couple of meteors every minute at most, you have to live in Asia. So the timing is off for Arizona, so we’re not going to see the best of this meteor shower.

If you’re out, maybe you’ll see one meteor every couple of minutes.

When will you be able to see it?

You will be able to see it tomorrow (today). The other important thing is you can only see it early in the morning. Basically you have to be outside from 2 a.m. until dawn. After 2 a.m. really. It’s an early morning event. The best time is Tuesday morning but there will still be a few Wednesday morning.

Is there anything unusual about this meteor shower?

Yes, the meteors are actually the fastest meteors out there because they’re hitting the earth head-on. They’re basically hitting the Earth’s atmosphere as fast as they possibly can. They’re hitting at about 72 kilometers per second. About 43 miles per second. That’s as fast as they possibly can get pretty much.

And also when you see them they’re at least 90 kilometers up, or 54 miles up. They’re pretty high up there even though they might appear to be real close. They’ll appear to be kind of bluish, maybe whitish, maybe blue-green streaks in the sky. They’re only going to last for a split second. They’re not something you’re going to see slowly burning across the sky. These guys are really quick and they burn out quickly so they’ll just look like really quick flashes.

How often do meteor showers come around?

There are meteor showers all the time but there’s really only a handful that are actually worth for the average person to see.

Is there a certain place in the city where it’s better to see meteor showers?

The darker, the better. You don’t have to go all the way out in the desert but the key is to maybe drive some place darker or even if you stay at home, find a spot in your yard where you don’t have bright lights shining in your face, which is really hard since everyone has security lights in their yards. But if you can find a place that’s somewhat dark, that’s the key. Campus probably won’t be a great spot because the campus is lit up bright as day all the time. But just try to find a place that’s dark and, of course, safe.

What direction or where in the sky should people look for the meteors?

The best thing to do is look straight up. Leo is going to be east. You don’t want to look directly east. It’s good to look away from Leo. Whatever is easiest on your neck. Usually when there are meteor showers people get out a beach chair and lay back and point straight up. Watch as much of the sky as you can. You don’t have to look all over the place, just relax and enjoy yourself. I know a lot of people I’ve met have seen them and don’t believe it because they happen so quickly. They just see a light across the sky really fast.

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