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This year's Leonid meteor will be especially pale

This is, among other things, due to work that this time the earth will not cross massive concentrations of space dust from the tail of the comet Temple-Turtle and because this time the moon is full and hides the group of Leo

Tamara Traubman

Every year, in the middle of November, the Earth passes through the particles left behind by the comet "Temple Tuttle". These are "Leonid" meteors, which catch fire when they hit the atmosphere at a speed of 96,875 km/h and create spectacular streaks of light.

But this year, astronomers predict, the nightly display of Leonid pyrotechnics will be less impressive than last year. But there is also good news: in 2001 and 2002 the most spectacular shows are expected.

Since this year's show is not supposed to be particularly impressive, Dr. Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, will observe the Leonids from the ground. A year or two ago he watched them from a research plane. But Jeniskens' project was canceled for another reason: "Last year it cost us 1.2 million dollars," says Jeniskens. "It is quite difficult to raise the necessary funds".

However, North American stargazers—who have missed the Leonids for the past two years because they fell in other parts of the world—will finally have something to look at. On the east coast of the USA it will be possible to see the Leonids twice: on Friday at 2:50 am, and on Saturday at 2:51 am.

Forecasters do not know exactly how many meteors will arrive. Expect their number to be modest - 12-2 per minute. Last year, for comparison, 60 meteors arrived per minute and more; And during the Leonid "storm" in 1966, their number reached several thousand per minute.

As in previous years, this year the operators of the holiday satellites around the Earth will take precautionary measures, such as pointing the solar panels parallel to the direction of the approaching meteors. The odds of hitting a satellite this year are "probably one in 5,000," says Dr. William Aylor, head of the Center for Astronomical Research in El Segundo, California.

This year, as mentioned, the scientists will observe the Leonids from the ground. NASA's Space Flight Center in Alabama is organizing observation teams at six locations around the world, and hopes to launch a balloon to a height of 12.5 kilometers to take pictures.

Astronomers are interested in the Leonids because most of the comets have not changed since the early days of the solar system. If researchers can learn about the chemical and physical properties of meteorites as they burn up in the atmosphere, they may be able to learn something about the composition of the early solar system.

42 articles, reporting the results of the aerial research expedition organized by Dr. Janiskens in 1999, were published last week in a special issue of the journal "Moon and Planets, Earth". Many scientists speculate that comets that crashed into the early Earth provided the building blocks for life.
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 15/11/2000

Last year the Middle East was the best place to watch the Leonid meteor shower. But according to the forecasts, on the night between Friday and Saturday only a thin rain will be seen from Israel. Ilan Manolis from the Israeli Astronomical Society explains that the reason for this is the moon. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of it will be illuminated that night. Since from Israel it will be seen near the constellation "Leo" - from which direction the meteors will rise - it will make it difficult to observe them.

"We may only be able to see the brightest meteors," Manolis says, emphasizing that these are predictions that may be inaccurate - positively or negatively. In any case, the best visibility will be from uninhabited areas where there is no lighting.

{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 15/11/2000}

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