November 18, 2009

Meteor Shower A Mixed Success For Observers In Asia

Many across Asia witnessed Tuesday night's meteor shower, but cloud cover blocked the view of many hopeful stargazers in India and Nepal.

Thousands of people stayed up late to camp out underneath the stars in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Leonid meteor shower.

One group of 30 amateur astronomers counted 78 Leonids over the course of a four-hour period from the Siriska sanctuary, about 95 miles south of New Delhi.

"There was no moon in the sky, which is good for observation," Yogeshwar Kanu Aggarwal, a member of the Space Science Popularization Association of Communications and Educators, told the Associated Press.

"We could see flashes of light for almost 10 seconds as bright as star Sirius."

NASA had said it expected nearly 300 Loenids to be falling every hour, whereas a normal evening would consist of about eight per hour.

"They will be a streak of light which is caused by the meteor burning up in the atmosphere," said scientist Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

"When they hit the atmosphere, the ice or dust doesn't last very long so it burns and leave a streak of light to mark its demise."

Cooke said the meteors, which consist of mostly ice and dust, travel at a speed of 156,000 miles per hour. They evaporate before the reach the ground, which makes it safe for people to go outside and observe without the fear "getting whacked on the head."

Stargazers in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, were disappointed to see very few Leonids across the sky due to cloud cover.

Clouds also threatened the views of observers in Nepal.

"It was a big event for us and we are all disappointed to have missed it," Jayanta Acharya, astronomy professor at Katmandu's Tribhuwan University, told the AP.


Image Caption: This side of Earth was facing the Leonid debris stream at the time of the Nov. 17th outburst. Image credit: Danielle Moser of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office.