Dazzling Meteorite Shower to Be Seen in Israel

Shower expected on Friday morning; best to watch it before dawn, as earth passes through tail of comet discovered in 2004.

Ilan Assayag

An unusual meteorite shower is expected to occur Friday morning, reaching its peak between 9 and 11 A.M. Israel time.

However, since meteorites can only be seen in the dark, “the optimal time to watch them from Israel is in the predawn hours,” explained Prof. Dan Maoz, director of the Wise Observatory at Tel Aviv University. “The best visibility would be in the Negev, south of Be’er Sheva or Sde Boker, where the sky is darkest.”

Most meteorite showers occur when the tail of a comet intersects with the Earth. “Comets are part of the solar system and are the remains of its creation,” explained Maoz. “They live in a cloud very far from the sun and are made up of water, ice, dry ice and a lot of dust. From time to time they are drawn inward toward the sun, and when the comet heats up it leaves a trail of gas and dust particles. Some of them continue to move around the sun, and when such a trail intersects with the Earth, the particles move quickly through the atmosphere and we get the phenomenon that people refer to as ‘falling stars.’”

The specific comet whose particles will be seen Friday is called 209P/LINEAR.

The comet was discovered in February 2004 as part of project LINEAR, an acronym for the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project, a joint project of NASA, the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the U.S. Air Force. Researchers say it passes through the Earth’s orbit once every five years.

The meteor shower is expected to be seen in various parts of the globe tomorrow and Saturday, but because this is a new shower, it may exceed the time forecast by scientists.

According to Maoz, if the shower rains down 200 meteors per hour, as astronomers at NASA expect, it will be as least as strong as the Perseids meteor showers that occur in August, which rain an average of 80 meteorites an hour. However, this would not make it a particularly intense shower, he said.

“We have seen some very strong meteor showers in the Leonid showers [that occur in November]. In 1999, the pace reached thousands of meteorites an hour. But it’s hard to predict these things in advance, and we could be surprised.”