UT Plans Leonid Meteor Watches

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two University of Tennessee star watchers are travelling near and far to draw attention to one of the biggest light shows of the century.

Paul Lewis, who heads UT-Knoxville’s Physics and Astronomy Outreach, is conducting a public viewing of the Leonid meteor storm Nov. 17 at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Dr. Mark Littmann, who holds UT-Knoxville’s Chair of Excellence in science writing and has written a book about the Leonid, is traveling to Portugal to get an even better view.

“This meteor storm could be the astronomical opportunity of a lifetime,” Lewis said. “Typical meteor showers bring 20-100 meteors per hour. This event has the potential for more than 1,000 meteors per hour.”

The free public viewing is set for 10 p.m. at Big South Fork’s Bandy Creek Campground Visitor’s Center. For directions, call the visitor’s center at 931-879-3625.

Littmann, who wrote “The Heavens on Fire: The Great Leonid Meteor Storms” by Cambridge Press, said the meteors are more visible this year because Earth and comet Tempel-Tuttle pass at about the same time through the stream of space dust and debris that causes the shower.

He said it would not happen again for 99 years.

“This could be the most spectacular shooting star show of the century,” Littmann said. “In 1833 and 1966, Leonid meteors poured down at rates of 40 per second.

“No one knows for sure how many will be seen this time, but it will be the last, best opportunity for a long time.”