KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This week’s Leonid meteor shower could be one of the most spectacular shooting star shows of the century, a University of Tennessee journalism professor who authored a new book about it said Monday.
Dr. Mark Littmann, who holds UT-Knoxville’s Chair of Excellence in science writing, said the Leonid is most visible once or twice about every 33 years as the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which spawns the meteors, passes closer to Earth.
Peaks are expected Tuesday night and again next November, but then not for another hundred years, Littmann said.
“In 1833 and 1966, Leonid meteors poured down at rates of 40 per second,” Littmann said. “No one knows how many to expect this time or next November, but those will be the last, best opportunities for a long time.”
The Leonid, named for the constellation Leo, is one of the most prolific meteor showers. It can produce very brief periods when hundreds of meteors can be seen.
Littmann said the meteors are too small and far away to harm Earth, but are visible as streaks of lights blazing across the sky. If the sky is clear, the meteors can be seen about 3 a.m. in areas away from city lights.
Littmann’s book, “The Heavens on Fire: The Great Leonid Meteor Storms” by Cambridge Press explains the historical importance of the Leonid meteors.
“The Leonid meteors gave rise to the whole field of meteor science,” Littman said. “Not only are they the superstars of shooting stars, they also are important scientifically and historically.”