NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Mabee Observatory in Krehbiel Science Center (KSC) at Bethel College will be open to the public at 4 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 19 for the Leonid Meteor Shower. A dense portion of debris from the comet Temple-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 33.2 years, is expected to produce a meteor storm of up to several thousand meteors an hour, according to Tracy Tuttle, the observatory's director. Tuttle is no relation to Horace Tuttle, who with William Temple saw the comet in the winter of 1865-66. "This could be a great show," says Tuttle, who will open the top-floor observation deck of the new science center for this special viewing. "A meteor storm is spread out over a large area of the sky so telescopic observations are not practical this time. The best way to view the storm is to bring a reclining lawn chair and many layers of warm clothing and to sit back and watch the eastern sky. We'll be serving coffee to warm you up as you watch."
As comet Temple-Tuttle nears the sun, like any comet, it heats up and leaves a trail of debris behind it. The debris it leaves behind also travels around the sun in a 33-year period. It is this debris that the earth intersects which produces the Leonids meteor storm.
Last year a storm of thousands of streaking fireballs dazzled stargazers. This year two storms are expected, the first at 10 p.m., Nov. 18 when meteors may be visible near the horizon in the east-northeast sky. The second meteor shower will be visible high in the sky to the east-southeast around 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 19. The Mabee Observatory observation deck will be available to the public for the early morning Nov. 19 viewing, beginning at 4 a.m. and until the meteor storm is over. Admission is free.
The Leonid Meteor Shower is named after Leo the Lion because when the shower appears, the earth faces towards this constellation during the earth's orbit around the sun.
"We will be videotaping the event, which should peak around 4:30 a.m. Of course, you can enjoy this show from any dark location if you have an unobstructed view of the eastern sky," Tuttle says. "And don't miss it. The next Leonid storm at night won't happen again until early in the 22nd century."