Meteor shower could be feast for eyes and ears
By Richard Stenger
(CNN) -- Although usually tame, the annual Bootid meteor shower could put on impressive fireworks over North America, delighting the eyes and ears of meteor enthusiasts tuned in to the show.
The celestial spectacle, which takes place when the Earth passes through the tail of comet Pons-Winnecke, lasts from late June until early July. Astronomers expect it to reach its peak Wednesday around 3 a.m. EDT.
"This favors North America and the northern Pacific areas. Some activity may also be visible from the northwestern portion of South America," said Robert Lundsford, secretary General of the International Meteor Organization, in a statement.
The shower, which seems to originate in the constellation Bootes, just to the left of and above the Big Dipper handle, normally produces only a modest crop of streaking meteors. An average display yields only several visible shooting stars an hour.
But the Bootids can heat up without warning. The debris trail of Pons-Winnecke varies in density and the Earth sometimes passes through a particularly thick cloud. In 1998, for example, observers saw 100 meteors per hour during one seven-hour outburst.
Comet Pons-Winnecke, which goes around the sun once every 6.37 years, follows an elliptical path from just beyond Jupiter orbit to a point near Earth orbit. It will return to the inner solar system in 2002.
No one knows what will happen during this shower. But meteor enthusiasts can experience them with their ears as well as eyes, thanks to NASA listening stations that monitor cosmic debris near the Earth.
The radar's loudspeaker plays directly on the Internet, so you can tune in to hear live echoes from streaking meteors. You can also check out the Bootids as well the Greatest Pings from other meteor storms by visiting: http://www.spaceweather.com/ glossary/nasameteorradar.html.
Although the shower peaks on June 27th, it takes place at lower intensities from June 26th until July 2nd. Listeners might hear radar pings well after its the height of the storm.
There is a consolation prize should Bootids searchers see few shooting stars. Mars, hovering above the southern horizon during its closest approach to Earth in 12 years, is putting on a brilliant display.
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