Meteor storm will bring a stunning light show to Earth

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The Independent Online

A meteor storm is expected to start in the early hours of tomorrow and it could turn into one of the most spectacular displays of "shooting stars" for three decades.

A meteor storm is expected to start in the early hours of tomorrow and it could turn into one of the most spectacular displays of "shooting stars" for three decades.

Astronomers say the Earth is about to enter a cloud of dust and debris from a passing comet, which will burn up in the planet's atmosphere to produce a stunning gallery of flashing lights.

The meteors, called Leonids because they appear to come from the constellation Leo, are a regular phenomenon at this time of the year. They were first recorded in 1366 and formally identified as cometary debris in 1865.

Astronomers have promoted this year's encounter between the Earth and the tail of debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle to a "full-scale storm", although you will have to be in Australia, East Asia or North America to see it at its best.

David Asher, an astronomer at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, said Britain was unlikely to witness the best display of Leonids unless the storm over the United States lasted longer than expected.

"If this lasts for several hours, then the start of the increase in meteor activity could be visible from Britain before sunrise on Sunday morning," Dr Asher said.

Comet Tempel-Tuttle – named after two 19th-century astronomers – visits this part of the solar system about every 33 years. Each time it lays down a trail of dust and debris which the Earth has to pass through for a couple of days in November on its orbit around the Sun. As the minute particles enter the Earth's atmosphere, the friction generated causes the debris to burn, generating the brief shafts of light known as shooting stars.

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