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Meteor shower threatens satellites

Jan 1, 2003

A storm of meteors on its way toward Earth could well wreak havoc with satellites, according to a recent study by astronomers. Geostationary communications satellites are the most likely to be affected by this short-term bombardment.

Predicted to enter Earth's atmosphere in November and again in late 1999, the Leonid meteor shower (so called because they appear to emanate from the constellation Leo) may damage satellites as the fast-moving particles impact delicate spacecraft structures. No one knows what the extent of damage will be since the last Leonid meteor storm took place more than 30 years ago, before there were many satellites in orbit.

The meteors, which reportedly have the diameter of a human hair, can produce holes in a satellite's shell similar to a .22-caliber bullet, according to an Associated Press report. As with the vast majority of particles that enter Earth's atmosphere from space, the Leonids will disintegrate before striking the Earth's surface.