This week's Leonid meteor shower could be one of the most spectacular

shooting star shows of the century, a UT journalism professor who authored

a new book about the shower said recently.

Mark Littmann, who holds University of Tennessee's Chair of Excellence in

science writing, said the Leonid is most visible once or twice about every

33 years as the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which spawns the meteors, passes

closer to Earth.

Peaks are expected again next November, but then not for another hundred

years, Littmann said.

"In 1833 and 1966, Leonid meteors poured down at rates of 40 per second,"

he said. "No one knows how many to expect this time or next November, but

those will be the last, best opportunities for a long time."

The Leonid, named for the constellation Leo, is one of the most prolific

meteor showers. It can produce very brief periods when hundreds of meteors

can be seen.

Littmann said the meteors are too small and far away to harm Earth, but are

visible as streaks of lights blazing across the sky. If the sky is clear,

the meteors can be seen about 3 a.m. in areas away from city lights.

Littmann's book, The Heavens on Fire: The Great Leonid Meteor Storms

by Cambridge Press, explains the historical importance of the Leonid

meteors.

"The Leonid meteors gave rise to the whole field of meteor science,"

Littmann said. "Not only are they the superstars of shooting stars, they

are also important scientifically and historically."