Friday, October 21, 2011

The sky is falling...again, 10.21.11

Not only is another meteor shower coming this way, but yet another gargantuan satellite is making its way back to Earth this weekend.

The Orionids meteor shower began about three or four days ago, and will continue to build until its climax on the morning of October 22nd, just before sunrise. Called the “Orionids” because the meteors seem to be falling out of the constellation Orion the hunter, the bright streaks and fireballs are actually created by detritus from Halley’s comet, burning up in our atmosphere.

Like a trail of fairy dust behind the Pigpen of fairies, the comet leaves a long, filthy (but sparkly—it is mostly ice) trail behind it. When Earth passes through the trail of dirt, dust, and ice, the resulting friction created by the pieces scrubbing against our atmosphere causes them to burn up.

Do not expect the meteor shower to blow you away, though. The Orionids is only expected to produce about 20-25 meteors per hour. In the past, the Orionids have also been very dim, so do not expect to see any if you are in an urban area with lights on at night. The best place to observe a meteor shower (or anything in astronomy, really), is to find a safe, dark, wide-open field in a rural area. The less light from nearby cities and towns you see on the horizon, the better. The Orionids are perfect for a nice calm, quiet evening of sky watching.

You may also want to keep an eye out for ROSAT, the 2.7-ton German X-ray satellite. Remember UARS, which fell to its death in the Pacific Ocean late last month? Well, it seems another one of the mechanical behemoths has bit the dust and is in the process of winding its way down to Earth.

Unlike UARS, which mostly broke up or burned up in our atmosphere, ROSAT is expected to have over 1 ton of its pieces survive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. While the chances for getting hit by it are higher than they were for UARS, they are still only about 1 in 2000. It may look great if you happen to catch a glimpse of it through a nice pair of binoculars, but the odds are far against it doing any real damage.

While it is impossible at this point to predict exactly when or where ROSAT will make its final resting place, scientists do guesstimate this it should make landfall over the weekend, either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. The best predictions they can manage are about 5 or 6 hours before it hits the ground.


No comments:

Post a Comment