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A note about time: UT=Universal Time; EST=Eastern Standard Time, the time on the US east coast.
Leonid meteor outbursts happen when Earth passes close to dusty debris trails laid down by comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet returns to the inner solar system every 33 years --the last time was in 1998-- but it never follows the same path twice. Gravitational perturbations by the planets, particularly Jupiter, nudge it into slightly different orbits each time around. As a result, no two of its debris trails are in the same spot. They are laid out in a complex pattern that has baffled astronomers for many years. Lately, though, researchers have figured out where many of the dust streams are located and can predict when Earth will pass through one.
Above: Earth's path through space is shown in blue. Auburn-colored ellipses denote dust streams laid down by comet Tempel-Tuttle in the indicated years. Until they disperse after a few centuries, these narrow trails are regions that have a high density of meteoroids and so there is a meteor storm if the Earth passes through one. This year our planet will pass close to trails deposited in 1932, 1733 and 1866. Courtesy of Dr. David Asher (copyright 2000, all rights reserved). [more information]
This year Earth will glide through the outskirts of three
debris streams, but we won't hit any dead center. The result
could be modest outbursts at the following times:
Saturday, Nov. 18.
Observers in the United States are not favorably placed for this potential flurry. The constellation Leo, as seen from the US east coast, will be just below the horizon at the time. However, east-coast observers could spot a special type of meteor called an Earthgrazer. These are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from just below the horizon. They often display colorful halos and long-lasting trails. Earthgrazers are so distinctive because they follow a path nearly parallel to our atmosphere.
Saturday, Nov. 18.
For more information about Leonid dust streams and meteor outbursts, please visit Leonid Meteors 2000 from the Armagh Observatory.