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Meteors streak sky

If party-goers drunkenly stumble home from a late-night get-together in the next few nights and claim to see streaks of light in the sky, bystanders may not want to call an ambulance right away. The streaks are actually meteors.

Astronomy Prof. Charles Tolbert said the meteor shower, called the Leonids, occurs each November for about one week when Earth passes through the orbit of comet Tempel-Tuttle.

The comet's old path is filled with dust particles, which hit Earth's atmosphere as streaks of light, Tolbert said.

"The Earth is in orbit around the sun and passes through old comet orbits," he said. "Whenever it does, we get a meteor shower."

He added that experts are predicting that this year will be an especially good year to view the Leonids, since Tempel-Tuttle recently passed through Earth's orbit, allowing more dust particles to occupy that area of space.

The more dust particles available to hit the Earth's atmosphere, the more meteors people can see on a clear night.

The shower's peak night was last night. Tolbert said the best time to view the shower is between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. for about the next two or three nights.

To see the shower, students need a dark place on a clear night with a wide range of sky visible. Meteors will appear as streaks of light across parts of the field of view.

"You want to look generally at the sky without focusing on any one particular area," Tolbert said.

On a good night, observers can see 10 or 12 meteors, he said.

Compiled by Christie McLaughlin


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