Storm and dust

Published: Wednesday 30 September 1998

IN NOVEMBER, the Earth will run into the worst meteor storm in 32 years. It will be the first space hurricane of the modern satellite era. While it poses no danger to people because the meteoroids will burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere, it poses some threat to the 500-odd satellites orbiting the planet. Meanwhile, people are flocking to conferences about the storm and websites have sprung up by the dozen, offering everything from predictions of widespread satellite damage to a countdown clock.

Meteoroids are not a new threat to satellites. Every year, the Earth's orbit brings it into the debris path of about 11 meteor streams orbiting the Sun. This annual display, seen from the Earth as red, green and blue streaks, tends to be benign, with about 10 to 15 meteoroids an hour spread over thousands of kilometres. The Earth will run into debris from the meteor just nine months after it is blown by the Sun, creating a plume of sand and dust.

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