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New meteor shower event will be able to be seen in Colorado tonight

Meteor seen from the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.
Meteor seen from the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.
Wikimedia Commons

Earth will pass through the orbit of a comet named LINEAR late tonight or early Saturday morning on May 23-24.

It is deemed a rare astronomical event due to the fact that it is the first time Earth will encounter the debris field of this particular comet.

Dr. Douglas Duncan, director of the University of Colorado Boulder's Fiske Planetarium and astronomer in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, was kind enough to send Examiner further details on tonight's event.

From: Chance of a New Meteor Shower, written by Dr. Duncan: "Comet orbits are usually strewn with bits of ice and rock, and when the earth hits them at a speed which is typically fast enough to go from Boulder to Denver in one second, they burn up at high speed in Earth's atmosphere. Most meteors, which some people call 'shooting stars', are actually only the size of a pea or smaller.

"A number of meteor showers are well know, such as the 'Perseid' meteors that are seen every August 11,12 and 13. However, a brand new meteor shower is possible. In 2004 an automated telescope run for NASA by MIT discovered a comet. This Saturday, around 1:30 Mountain Time, the earth will pass through the orbit of this comet, whose name is LINEAR. How many meteors will be seen is highly uncertain. It could be a few dozens, or it could be hundreds.

"The sizes and distribution of particles along the comet's path isn't known, so it pays to watch from midnight onwards, not just at 1:30 a.m. If you trace back the streaks of the meteors, they are expected to radiate from a point above the northern horizon, to the right of the position of the Big Dipper at 1:30 a.m. However, they are expected to streak all across the sky.

"A dark sky is critical for seeing any meteor shower. In the city you might see one or two, in the suburbs 5 or 6, but up in the mountains 50 an hour."

But because the chance to see a new meteor shower is so rare, Duncan said he plans to camp out and count as many “shooting stars” as he can.

Dr. Duncan possesses degrees at Caltech and the University of California. He was a participant in the project that first found sunspot cycles on other stars. It is the activity of the sun - sunspots and solar wind- that causes the northern lights. He also, in addition to joining the staff of the Hubble Space Telescope, accepted, in 1992, a joint appointment at the University of Chicago and the Adler Planetarium and began a trend of modernization of planetariums which has spread to New York, Denver, Los Angeles, and now Boulder.

From 1997-2002, Dr. Duncan did science commentary on the Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ and he has appeared on television's History Channel and BBC Horizon.

In 2011, he received the prestigious Richard Emmons Award presented to the "Outstanding Astronomy Teacher in the U.S."

Dr. Duncan is the author of "Clickers in the Classroom," a guide for new technology that enables teachers to be aware of their students participation. He has served as National Education Coordinator for the American Astronomical Society, authored over 50 refereed publications and has had his work funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Smithsonian, and National Geographic. The most recent of his work is in correlating student texting and grades.

Dr. Duncan leads educational trips around the world for watching total eclipses of the sun and to see the northern lights. The next trip is scheduled for Spring 2014 and 2015 to Canada.

In 1991, he visited the North Pole and was elected to The Explorer's Club of New York City.

This year he begins science commentary on "Colorado Matters", a Colorado Public Radio program.

credits: CU-Boulder press release and Dr. Douglas Duncan.

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