New meteor shower may try to upstage the Leonids
The Leonids may not be the only meteor show in town this month. Astronomers
believe that the dust from a newly discovered comet may produce an
impressive firework display as the Earth passes close to its orbit at 19:41
UTC on 11 November.
Known as Comet LINEAR (C/1999 J3), the newcomer made its closest approach
to the Sun in September and is now on the outward leg of its 63,000 year
trek through the Solar System. On 11 November, the Earth is due to pass
less than 20 000 km from the comet's orbit, just 40 days after the comet
During this close encounter, the Earth may plough into the dusty debris
thrown out by the comet as its icy nucleus vapourises in the warmth of the
Sun. The International Meteor Organisation has issued a warning for meteor
observers to keep a lookout during a 48 hour period around 11 November.
Since this will be the first time that anyone has ever seen a Linearid
meteor shower, it is impossible to calculate the dust distribution in the
No-one knows what to expect. The only way to find out is to go outside and
look. The meteors will seem to blaze across the sky from the direction of
the well-known constellation Ursa Major (commonly known as the Big Dipper
or the Plough). The phase of the Moon is only just past new, so observers
in Europe should be blessed with dark skies.
Comet LINEAR is named after the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research
telescope in Socorro, New Mexico, which is owned by the U.S. Air Force.
LINEAR uses an automated system and a highly sensitive electronic camera,
and has discovered many unknown asteroids and comets.
The red dot shows the region of the sky from which the Linearid meteors might emanate. Image courtesy of NASA MSFC Science news.