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Friday, November 17, 2000

Moonlight might
obscure meteor shower

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Some astronomy officials in Hawaii say the Leonids meteor shower will be hard to see over the weekend because of light from the moon.

Residents can expect quick-moving specks that will occasionally leave trails of light across the sky, said Mike Shanahan, planetarium manager at the Bishop Museum. But clear sighting is questionable, he said.

The best part of the sky to watch is toward the east, said Shanahan.

According to Skyway Inc. in Levittown, N.Y., the shower is caused when the Earth's orbit grazes the trail of cosmic dust left by a comet called the Tempel-Tuttle. First identified in 1866, Tempel-Tuttle takes about 33 years to orbit the sun.

The comet recently passed through the inner part of the solar system in 1998. Because the shower appeared to be coming from the constellation Leo, it was named the Leonids meteor shower.

"No other shower has fast-moving specks of lights at 44 miles a second," said Shanahan. "It's the highest possible speed for meteors within the solar system."

John Furnis, tour guide at the Onizuka Visitor Station for International Astronomy on the Big Island, said the peak time to see the meteors will be between 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday. Fast-streaking objects, white to yellow in color, will be moving across the sky from east to west, he said.

Joe Rao, meteorologist in Westchester, N.Y., said, "Any prediction as to exactly what the Leonids will do in any given year can't be much more than an intellectual guess."

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