Earth In A Celestial Sandstorm

The Earth is just a few days away from spinning into a celestial sandstorm. This unusual space weather could ruin satellites, and it could also provide the light show of a lifetime, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

Two years ago, Japanese astronomers captured a meteor shower. This could be a meteor storm, says astronomer Norman Sperling.

"On rare occasions, we get these meteor storms which might have thousands or ten thousand or more meteors in an hour which is one heck of a show for anybody's standards."

The Earth's orbit is about to cross the path of Comet Temple Tuttle. The comet was barely visible when it passed by in February, but it left behind a trail of debris that will begin colliding with the earth's atmosphere on Monday night. By midday Tuesday, the Earth could be engulfed in a meteor storm.

"You'll see points of light streaking across the sky," Sperling explains. "The heat turns around and burns up the particle while it's still in the air, so none of it actually hits the ground, so we're safe."

But satellites are not safe. Spy satellites now being used to watch Saddam Hussein could be at risk, along with weather and communications satellites.

The bits of debris left behind by the comet are small, usually no bigger than grains of sand. But this cosmic debris will hit the Earth's atmosphere at more than a 150,000 miles an hour turning every grain of sand into a bullet.

"If one of these should hit a satellite in a sensitive place, it could break the electronics and smash the camera," says Dr. David Morrison.

While satellite operators are losing sleep over cosmic hazards, the rest of us can just stay up late Monday night, and perhaps catch some falling stars.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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