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Leonids on the Web

13 November 1998 7:00 pm
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TOKYO--When the annual Leonid meteor showers peak next week, the sun will be high over North America and prevent fans from viewing the most spectacular displays. But skywatchers with Internet access can catch the show on Tuesday, courtesy of astronomers in Japan, who will broadcast the meteor showers live on the Web.

The meteors blaze in the constellation Leo each November, when Earth passes through a band of dusty debris shed by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Most years, viewers treated to a clear night sky can see only about 15 meteors per hour. But when Tempel-Tuttle itself nears Earth, roughly every 33 years, the dust is thicker and the showers more spectacular, reaching up to 150,000 meteors an hour. The forecasts this year call for storms less intense, but still strong enough to worry some satellite operators (Science, 6 November, p. 1032).

Four separate groups will broadcast images from telescopes at seven locations scattered throughout Japan, which is expected to be one of the best places to view the coming storm. The main showers should begin about 9 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday and peak about 2:30 p.m. Two educational observatories--the The Saji Observatory, in Saji, and the Misato Observatory, in Misato--also plan to post images and video clips to their sites a few days after the webcast.

Unfortunately, cloudy weather is forecast for much of Japan that night. But the earliest clearing is forecast for the area around Mt. Fuji--where an amateur group will use wireless transmission equipment borrowed from phone companies to send the images to a web server. "Of course, they want to see the event themselves, but they also want to share it with as many people as possible," says Jun-ichi Watanabe, head of the Public Information Office of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, in Tokyo, which is helping publicize the efforts.

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