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An unusual double Leonid meteor shower......

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An unusual double Leonid meteor shower to peak on November 13 and 19.

Every year, just about the middle of November, Earth's orbit around the Sun carries us through the Leonid meteor stream. The shower occurs as the Earth crosses the path of debris and material left behind by the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. For a few hours, many of these fiery remnants fall from a specific area of the sky—within the constellation of Leo (the Lion)—and look like "shooting stars" across the sky. In most years, we don't really encounter anything out of the ordinary, but just about every 33.2 years, the Earth orbits through a small, particularly dense cluster of comet particles, and sky watchers may be treated with a spectacular show.

After Tempel-Tuttle's orbit had first been calculated in 1865, astronomers quickly associated it with the Leonid meteor shower that occurs every November. The shower normally displays about 10-20 meteors an hour over a period of six to seven days, with the peak occurring on or around November 17. However, more dramatic meteor displays tend to be seen every 33 years or so, when Tempel-Tuttle comes to perihelion. For instance, in 1966, the central United States saw about 5,000 meteors in a 20-minute period. The great Leonid Storms are over for now, but we will enjoy a modest display of the meteor showers this year.

In 2003, the Leonid meteor shower peaks on November 13 (dust trail encounter) and November 19. Scientists predict that peak viewing for North America will be in the early morning hours, when the moon is low in the sky. North American observers should see a better display on the 19th.

If you are curious about the Leonid Meteor showers and want to know when and where conditions will be best for viewing the displays, have a look at the sites below. They include brief histories or background for the Leonid Showers and the comet Tempel-Tuttle, data from previous Leonid Meteor showers and predictions for this year, and links to additional sites that contain information on the topic.

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