Volume 92, Issue 42

Wednesday, November 18, 1998



Research showers on Western

By Mark Brown
Gazette Staff

Both satellite operators and star gazers alike will be pleased with the outcome of the 1998 Leonid meteor shower.

For the last few days, Western has had researchers monitoring the event from posts in Mongolia and Australia, where the meteor storm was the most intense.

"Western is the center of the project – without Western there would be no project," said Ian Rowe, president of the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Technology. CRESTech was responsible for providing funding for the project and gathering expertise.

Peter Jedicke, spokesperson for Western's meteor research team, said the meteor storm was one-tenth to one-quarter the size than was originally predicted. This is good news for satellite operators, since satellites will face less of a risk than what was previously calculated, he added.

The peak of the storm was yesterday at 2:20 p.m. with an estimated 100 meteors per hour travelling through the atmosphere, Jedicke said. The size of the meteors ranged from smaller than a grain of sand to the size of a football, although none of the meteors were large enough to strike the Earth, he added.

This meteor storm is on a 32 to 33 year cycle and could happen over two years, Rowe explained. "There is a very good chance we could experience this again next year."

"[The data] will allow for a more relevant prediction for next year," Jedicke said. Some researchers have already started to speculate about next year's storm based on what they know about the last meteor storm, he said. "We might be facing a really intense storm."

Jedicke said he did not know of any satellites affected by the storm. Originally researchers said there would be a one per cent chance of a satellite being hit.

The data from this storm is first transmitted to Western from the two research sites in Mongolia and Australia where it is collected and sent to Colorado's Shriever Air Force Base.

"As a matter of policy we don't talk about our satellites," said Lt. Col. Don Miles, spokesperson for United States Air Force Space Command. Miles added the satellites used for the Global Positioning System are doing fine.

"We've certainly been monitoring the information to determine the level of action," Miles said.

While much of the research is focused on predicting the next storm, the data collected will also be used to improve the design of satellites. Jedicke said the data collected will make it possible for scientists to make better estimates of the risks in space.

"As we learn more about the threat we learn how to mitigate the threat through design," Rowe explained.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998