Volume 93, Issue 45

Thursday, November 18, 1999


Fears over cutbacks surface

Police pull preacher

Vote resurrects residents' council

Meteorites threaten communications

Mayor plays it up in Miami

Ontario just ain't got what it takes

Bass ackwards

Caught on campus

Meteorites threaten communications

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

Stargazers are in for a possible treat tonight if a 33 year-old cosmic phenomenon decides to make an appearance over Canadian skies.

The Leonid Meteor stream, an unusually large and spectacular wave of cosmic rocks and gravel, is scheduled to brush past the earth's atmosphere, said Western astronomy professor David Gray.

Gray explained the stream, which began yesterday and continues through until tonight, is being monitored for safety purposes by a team of scientists located at strategic areas throughout the world.

The inundation of meteorites, ranging in size from peas to basketballs, poses a looming threat on the thousands of satellites circling the globe, Gray said.

"The potential hazards are fairly small, but there are a large number of communication satellites, worth many billions of dollars and the smallest meteorite could easily damage these satellites," he said. Gray added if the majority of rocks are larger and penetrate the earth's atmosphere, the stream could be upgraded to a storm which would see thousands of shooting stars light up the night sky.

"The purpose of the project is to help satellite operators, because they don't want to have to turn [their satellites] off if they don't have to," Gray said. He explained the surveillance operation is working in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Huntsville, Alabama, to keep tabs on the stream's activity.

Gray added the information gathered by the team on the timing and flux of the stream could help minimize any damage resulting from cosmic rocks pelting the communications equipment.

"NASA is in fact co-ordinating [the project from] an effort originating at UWO," said Alan Webster, an electrical engineering professor and member of the scientific monitoring team at NASA.

"The reason we're worried about it [is] because these meteorites are capable of travelling up to 70 kilometres per second," Webster said.

He added the monitoring effort has placed nine teams at strategic locations across the globe, including Israel, the Canary Islands and Ellesmere Island near the Arctic Circle. "The prediction is the Mid-East region will be the best place to view the stream," he said.

Despite the possible havoc a storm could play on global telecommunications systems, Norm Berberich, communications spokesperson for Bell Mobility, said cell phone users were safe because most telecommunications companies keep back-up satellites in orbit for just an occasion. "For whatever reason one goes down, there's always a back-up in place," he said.

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