Have you ever wanted to catch a ďfalling star?Ē Right now is your big chance! These short-lived streaks of light in the night sky are not really stars but meteors, made visible when tiny particles of dust and rock called meteoroids burn up from friction as they strike earthís atmosphere at high speeds ranging from 10 to 70 kilometers per second. Occasionally larger chunks of rock survive the burning up, and their remains that reach earth are called meteorites. At certain times of the year, such as now, large numbers of meteors, referred to as meteor showers, can be seen. They are named for the constellation from which they appear to originate, although they do not in fact come from constellations or their stars. Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet as it orbits the sun. This debris is ejected by the comet as its frozen gases evaporate from the sunís heat. It is particles from this debris that light up the sky as they ignite on striking the earthís atmosphere. Sometimes larger particles, on colliding with the atmosphere, leave a stream of smaller particles that form a fireball or bolide which shows up as a glowing trail in the sky. We are currently experiencing the annual Leonid Meteor Shower which appears to originate in the constellation Leo. It is associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle. Its peak here on the east coast was expected to be in the early hours of this morning. However, meteors should still be visible tonight (November 18th) and tomorrow night. This year the best display of the Leonids is visible in Asia, though not here in New England because the peak intensity occurs during our daylight hours. About every 33 years the Leonids produce intense meteor storms, peaking at thousands of meteors per hour. The most famous of these occurred in 1833 when the night sky was brilliantly illuminated by one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand meteors per hour. Spectacular meteor storms occurred most recently in 1999, 2001 and 2002. During these, in the early hours of the morning, my family and I lay back on lawn chairs on a nearby school field and enjoyed the show. Not even binoculars were necessary.
This month join the Springfield STARS Club for movie night. The recent documentary In the Shadow of the Moon will be shown on Tuesday, November 24th at 7.30pm at the Springfield Science Museum at the Quadrangle. This extraordinary film documents the Apollo space program with its historic voyages to the moon. It includes archival material from the original NASA film footage, much of it never seen before, as well as interviews with surviving astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean and others. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge.
Also at the Springfield Science Museum, the next Stars over Springfield will be held on Friday, December 4th at 7.30pm. Former STARS Club president Jack Megas will present The Beautiful Winter Sky, a look at the upcoming seasonís stars and constellations and the mythology behind them. Afterwards the museumís 20-inch rooftop telescope will be opened to the public. In case of clouds a planetarium show will be presented instead.
Amanda Jermyn, of Longmeadow, has been a member of the Springfield Stars Club since 2000 and currently serves on the club's board of directors. For more information, visit the Springfield Stars Club Web site at www.reflector.org or call 1(800)336-9054.
Copyright © Amanda Jermyn