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Meteor shower may expose how life on Earth began

meteor shower
It will be the most intense meteor shower on Earth in 33 years
CNN's Rick Lockridge tells us why satellites may be at risk
Windows Media 28K 56K
November 14, 1998
Web posted at: 11:17 p.m. EST (0417 GMT)

(CNN) -- NASA plans to follow a trail of dust for clues to how extraterrestrial material helped create a suitable environment for life on Earth.

On Tuesday, the Earth will cross the trail of the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun about every three decades and will produce the most intense meteor shower here in 33 years.

Many people around the world will be watching the heavens for the spectacular light show. And NASA will have its eyes on two research aircraft it is sending up on an astrobiology mission.

"We are especially interested in learning the composition of Tempel-Tuttle's debris, the molecules that are created during the meteor's interaction with. the Earth's atmosphere, and the composition and chemistry of the atoms, molecules and particles detected in the meteor's path," said Peter Jenniskens, the mission's principal investigator and an astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute.

The U.S. military is concerned about meteor damage to satellites  

NASA says the aircraft will provide three-dimensional views, making high-resolution stereoscopic images and spectrographic observations of meteor dynamics and chemistry.

"A team of interdisciplinary scientists -- astronomers, atmospheric physicists and meteor specialists -- will use state-of-the-art sampling techniques to provide a 'window on the sky' over Japan during the storm," according to a statement from NASA.

Meanwhile, governments and companies that have satellites in orbit may have turned them in a new direction to avoid damage from collisions with the meteor shower.

The U.S. military is especially concerned about damage to surveillance, navigation and communication satellites during its standoff with Iraq.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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