Leonids activities at Marshall make for meteorically successful night

November 18, 1999

Engineers and scientists working around the clock in the Leonid Environment Operations Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recorded a peak of some 1,700 Leonids meteors an hour about 8 p.m. CST Wednesday.

This intense Leonids activity was most visible over Europe and the Middle East, with 40 to 60 meteors per hour being sited over North America. The Leonids shower happens every year when Earth passes close to the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle and the debris left in the comet's path. As Earth travels through the comet dust, the debris burns up in Earth's atmosphere, and observers typically see about 10 to 20 shooting stars an hour.

This year, Marshall engineers reported a peak of 1,700 Leonids meteors per hour, with even more counted in some individual reports. This higher number of meteors was observed because Earth passed only about 68,000 miles (110,000 kilometers) from the comet debris cloud.

"The peak occurred within 20 minutes of the time the computer models predicted it would occur," said Dr. Jeff Anderson, who was among the Marshall engineers staffing the Leonid Environment Operations Center. "That's a very good prediction. We've gained valuable knowledge of the Leonid Meteor shower and confirmed the accuracy of the computer model used to predict meteor showers."

Information on meteor activity and intensity was distributed to NASA and U.S. Air Force satellite operators to ensure safe satellite operations. Although a typical meteor is smaller than a grain of sand, it travels more than 40 times the speed of a bullet. Meteor impacts can impair satellites and their sensitive sensors.

"The joint Leonids operation center worked extremely well," Anderson said. "Representatives of NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the University of Western Ontario in Canada came together to form a great team."

Early Thursday morning, Marshall scientists launched a weather balloon with a camera that recorded images of meteors streaking across the sky and the sounds of meteors burning up in Earth's atmosphere. Video and sound recordings, downlinked from the balloon to the Marshall science Web site, can be viewed at: http://www.Leonidslive.com

The 10-foot (3-meter) diameter weather balloon lifted off from Marshall's Atmospheric Research Facility at 12:37 a.m. CST and ascended to an altitude of 20 miles (32 kilometers). A television camera recorded stars, planets and meteors with excellent clarity. Although the meteor shower peaked over Europe earlier in the evening, the camera captured more than a dozen meteors during a flight, lasting four hours, 28 minutes.

Marshall used computer commanding to separate the balloon from the payload carrying the camera at 4:45 a.m. CST. The payload reached the ground at 5:05 a.m. CST, and shortly afterward the balloon landed near Rome, Ga. Both the payload and balloon are being recovered.
-end-
Interviews, photos and video supporting this release are available to media representatives by contacting Steve Roy of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall's News Center on the Web at: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news

For information about the U.S. Air Force role during the Leonid storm, contact Lt. Col. Don Miles at (719) 554-3842.

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

Related Comet Articles from Brightsurf:

Comet Chury's ultraviolet aurora
On Earth, auroras, also called northern lights, have always fascinated people.

Hubble snaps close-up of comet NEOWISE
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the closest images yet of the sky's latest visitor to make the headlines, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, after it passed by the Sun.

Hubble snaps close-up of celebrity comet NEOWISE
The Hubble Space Telescope has snapped the closest images yet of the sky's latest visitor to make headlines, comet NEOWISE, after it passed by the Sun.

New comet discovered by ESA and NASA solar observatory
In late May and early June, Earthlings may be able to glimpse Comet SWAN.

Hubble captures breakup of comet ATLAS
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the sharpest view yet of the breakup of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS).

The salt of the comet
Under the leadership of astrophysicist Kathrin Altwegg, Bernese researchers have found an explanation for why very little nitrogen could previously be accounted for in the nebulous covering of comets: the building block for life predominantly occurs in the form of ammonium salts, the occurrence of which could not previously be measured.

New NASA image provides more details about first observed interstellar comet
A new image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope provides important new details about the first interstellar comet astronomers have seen in our solar system.

Interstellar comet 2I -- Borisov swings past sun
Comet 2I/Borisov is a mysterious visitor from the depths of space -- the first identified comet to arrive here from another star.

Hubble observes 1st confirmed interstellar comet
Hubble has given astronomers their best look yet at an interstellar visitor -- comet 2I/Borisov -- whose speed and trajectory indicate it has come from beyond our solar system.

Interstellar Comet with a Familiar Look
A new comet discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov is an outcast from another star system, yet its properties determined so far are surprisingly familiar -- a new study led by JU researchers shows.

Read More: Comet News and Comet Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.