Over before we knew it

Lenoid meteor shower, the biggest astronomical non-event of 1998, caused hardly any damage to orbiting satellites

Published: Monday 15 February 1999

Safe in space: the meteors spa (Credit: University of Western Ontario<)OKAY, so it was not as impressive as it was supposed to be. But now that the over-hyped Lenoid meteor shower is a thing of the past, one group of people - the satellite owners - are breathing sighs of relief.

As far as meteor showers are concerned, astronomers still insist that Lenoids put on a reasonable display. But those who had predicted that Asian viewers will see a storm similar to the celebrated event of 1996, when skies above North America were ablaze with thousands of shooting stars, are all looking the other way now.

So are the doomsday prophets who suggested that many satellites would be rendered useless by the meteor storm. These orbiting multi-million dollar pieces of hardware appear to have emerged out of the storm unscathed. Barren Beneski, a spokesperson for Orbital Sciences in Virginia, USA, says that the company's 30 communications and imaging satellites survived without a detectable hit. "We see no degradation in performance," he says.

Irridium telecoms consortium, based in the US capital Washington, boasts of more than twice the number of satellites as Orbital. They, too, are only happy that all their satellites came out of the storm without a scratch. Both the Hubble Space Telescope and Russia's ageing Mir space station - two of the largest objects currently in orbit, experienced no problem..

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) observations made from aircraft flying above the Japanese island of Okinawa during the predicted peak of the storm indicate that the there were between 200 and 300 meteors per hour - 20 times as many as in a typical Lenoid shower, but still fewer than expected.

However, predictions about the storm's timing may have been incorrect. Reports from the UK-based Isaac Newton Telescope imply that there were between 1,000 and 2,000 meteor trails an hour at 0500 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on November 17 - about 16 hours before the predicted peak.

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