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Leonid Shower May Face Final Week

November 17, 2002

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ This week may be the last chance until 2099 to see a truly spectacular meteor shower, scientists say.

The annual Leonid meteor shower usually delivers only a few visible meteors. But there could be thousands each hour Tuesday _ the largest such shower expected until the end of the century.

Despite a full moon, scientists predict Tuesday’s shower will be visible in the night sky from Western Africa to the Eastern United States.

``If you’re ever going to see them. This might be the year to try,″ Don Yeomans, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said in a statement.

As many as 2,000 to 5,000 tiny meteors per hour might be visible as they burn up in the atmosphere. The peak hours in the United states will begin early Tuesday, at around 5:30 a.m. EST.

The meteors are dust particles shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which swings around the sun once every 33 years. The shower occurs each November, when the Earth’s orbit takes it through the trail left by the comet.

The dust for this year’s show actually was laid down by the comet in 1866. Most of the particles are smaller than a grain of rice but enter the atmosphere at 45 miles per second, burning up from friction.

A typical Leonid shower involves about 15 meteors per hour. Last year’s involved more than 1,000 per hour at times. In 1966, stargazers counted as many as 150,000 meteors per hour.

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