Thursday, November 18, 1999

Haleakala station
spots meteor show

Maui observers report
50 an hour at the height
of the Leonid 'storm'

By Helen Altonn


An anticipated "storm" of Leonid meteors last night occurred in Israel, but Hawaii observers saw only about 50 per hour at most, said an observer at a monitoring station on Haleakala, Maui, today.

Mike Morrow, one of four observers at the station, said they saw the most meteors between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. from the Air Force Observatory. That's about the same number they saw last year -- and last year they were much brighter, he said.

Leonid meteors are seen every year between Nov. 14 and Nov. 20 as the Earth passes through debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle.

Hundreds to thousands of meteors per hour had been predicted in parts of the world as the meteors reached a peak last night that occurs just once every 33 years.

Jim Bedient, observing the shower this week with Morrow, had hoped to see about 80 meteors per hour from Haleakala. But he said Hawaii wasn't in the right place for a good view this year.

"Usually, you figure 15 to 20 an hour (in a normal year)," Morrow said. Doubling that is nice, he said. "But it wasn't spectacular.

"In 1966, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., we had up to 5,000 to 7,000 meteors an hour."

Morrow said there were reports of more than 1,600 meteors per hour in Israel last night, "where the maximum was, and where it was supposed to be."

The U.S. Air Force, NASA and University of Western Ontario in Canada had set up a special monitoring program this year to collect information on the expected meteor "storm" to protect satellites and critical communication, navigation and surveillance systems.

Haleakala has one of the stations. Others are in Florida, Canada, the Canary Islands, Kwajalain Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and in Israel's Negev Desert.

Morrow said the Canary Island station has been "cloudy and miserable" the past couple of days, and that only about 30 meteors per hour were seen in Florida.

While observations are continuing on Haleakala, he said, "Basically, we think we've had it until 2033."

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