The Meteors Are Coming

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Time to take a shower. It's the most intense day of the Leonid meteor storm -- and while stargazers across the globe settle down for a romantic cascade of shooting stars, scientists and corporations scramble to save their satellites from the biggest Earth-bound bombardment the space age has ever seen. As you read this, tiny fragments from the Comet Tempel-Tuttle's tail are whizzing toward our unsuspecting planet at a dizzying 155,000 mph. You, of course, are protected by many miles of flammable, oxygen-rich atmosphere. The satellite your pager uses -- not to mention your phone company, your cable company and your government -- isn't so lucky. Our entire orbital army, more than 600 satellites strong, risks being shot with the equivalent of .22-caliber bullets.


The best time to view the meteor shower: Wednesday morning, between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. EST

The best place to go:
Find an open area away from cities and towns with a good view of the southern sky.

Leonids Live! from NASA

Which explains why NASA and its peers in the private sector are rotating their high-tech machinery away from the storm, powering down, and wishing on a star that they won't be the unlucky one. "The chance of any one satellite getting smacked by a particle is probably less than one in one thousand," said Don Yeomans of NASA's JPL labs. "But on the other hand, some of these satellites are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, so you do take whatever precautions you can." Even a single direct hit could cause a communications disaster: Remember the malfunction of ComSat 3 earlier this year that put most cell phones and beepers to sleep? Now, some of us would see that as a blessing in disguise...