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Clouds Darken Much of Meteor Light Show in Northeast

August 12, 1993

Undated (AP) _ Thousands of colorful meteors rocketed across the sky Wednesday night, but cloudy skies over much of the Northeast darkened what was supposed to be the most spectacular cosmic light show in years.

The Perseid meteor shower appears every August as Earth passes through a trail of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, usually producing about 60 streaks across the sky every hour.

But astronomers said this year’s shower would be particularly intense, with various estimates ranging from 400 to thousands of meteors per hour, partly because the comet passed closer to Earth last November on its 130-year orbit than it had in more than 2,000 years.

The meteors flashed by, but in many areas clouds kept people from seeing them.

″I’m disappointed because I was expecting to come out here and see this cool stuff, but nothing has happened so far,″ said 12-year-old Missy Beavan, one of a dozen people crowded onto the deck of a friend’s home in Morgantown, W.Va., to see the show.

″We’ve seen more airplanes than meteors so far,″ said Dan Harper of Charleston, W.Va., who went to the Sunrise Museum’s planetarium just above the city.

But not everyone was disappointed. Diane Pleines of Mamaroneck, N.Y., said the clouds cleared above her Long Island Sound home just as the light show was beginning.

″It looks like streaks (and) they really do feel close,″ she said.

A few meteors were also spotted by the crowd of 200 who gathered near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s observatory in Westford, Mass.

″I’ve seen two of them, at least two or three of them, but I haven’t heard any oohs and aahs,″ said Henry Hopkinson, of Derry, N.H. ″It’s been very sporadic.″

The experts knew there was a good chance of disappointment.

″All meteor showers are like blind dates. You never really know what you’re getting unless you’re face to face,″ said Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium.

The most concentrated display of tiny meteors burning up in the atmosphere was predicted along the East Coast, but astronomers said that even after the peak as many as 100 meteors per hour might seen by West Coast viewers.

Those shut out by clouds could have another shot at seeing the meteor shower Thursday night, astronomers said.

″Earth is passing through the debris of a comet; it doesn’t have a sharp boundary,″ said Rick Bady, professor of physics at Marshall University in Huntington. W.Va.

″It really lasts for several days. It’s a gradual thing, but it usually peaks over one day.″

The possibility that any of the comet debris would hit the surface of the Earth was remote. Most of the fragments are about the size of sand grains, so they burn up while entering the atmosphere at up to 37 miles a second.

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