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Earth To Take A Meteor Shower

In a Quonset hut at the Denver Research Institute, scientists are using a powerful hydrogen-driven gun to simulate a collision between a meteor and a satellite, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

"When your meteor comes in, what you get is a very round hole at the outer bumper," says Joel Williamsen of the University of Denver.

They're developing new ways to shield delicate and expensive spacecraft from cosmic hazards.

"Space debris is a constant threat to us and it's growing," Williamsen continues.

The threat has never been greater than it will be early Tuesday when the earth begins passing through the Leonid meteor storm. Williamsen says the last time this happened was 1966.

"During 1966, there was a peak of 100,000 meteors observed per hour," says Joel Williamsen, of the University of Denver.

But in 1966 there were only a few satellites in earth orbit, now there are hundreds -- including military satellites.

At the military's satellite control center in Colorado Springs, planners have spent two years developing procedures to help spacecraft ride out the storm.

There is no danger on Earth, as the meteors will burn up in the atmosphere. But as they fall, astronomers will be watching, measuring, and learning about the universe.

"If we do get a meteor outburst, several thousand meteors per hour, this may be the only chance in your lifetime to see it. So why not go see it," says Steve Butell of the SETI institute.

Butell is part of a team of scientists who will study the meteors from an airplane over Japan -- where the peak of the storm will be most visible.

But even in North America, there could be quite a show early Tuesday morning. And all that's needed for admission are clear skies, and the willingness to rise well before dawn.