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Earthgrazers and Fireballs: The Strange Side of The Leonid Meteor Shower
Space.com ^ | November 16, 2001 | By Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer, SPACE.com

Posted on 11/17/2001 3:31:38 AM PST by MeekOneGOP

Friday November 16 09:37 AM EST

Earthgrazers and Fireballs: The Strange Side of The Leonid Meteor Shower

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer, SPACE.com

  
The Leonid meteor shower is a strange show. Its meteors are among the fastest known. It is notoriously difficult to predict. And it is a total night owl, refusing to show its best stuff until well after midnight.

But while the 2001 Leonids will likely be remembered for the sheer volume of shooting stars, there are some strange characters to look for as the shower's source ekes above the eastern horizon late Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

A handful of meteors will first zoom across the horizon for long stretches of time. Earthgrazers, they're called. And if you're real lucky, you might spot some fireballs -- larger meteors that explode upon impact with Earth's atmosphere, generating spectacular blazes of light (not to mention fear of alien spacecraft and calls to local law enforcement offices).

Earthgrazers

Leonid meteors will take their time arriving Saturday night. Wherever you are on Earth, you're viewing location has to rotate into the stream of space dust that causes the Leonids. The shooting stars will appear to emanate from a point in the sky known as the radiant, which for the Leonids happens to be in the constellation Leo (hence the name).

No knowledge of this is needed to find an earthgrazer. Just go out and look to the East. The timing depends on where you live. Figure mid-evening for high northern latitudes, such as Canada; late evening hours for mid-northern latitudes, as in most of the United States; and after midnight for equatorial regions and the Southern Hemisphere.

What might you see?

"When the radiant lies near the horizon the Leonid meteors cannot penetrate far into the Earth's atmosphere," explains Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society. "At this time they are only able to skim the upper atmosphere."

These earthgrazers, as scientists call them, often last several seconds and can span a great distance of the sky, Lunsford said.

To see an earthgrazer, you'll need an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon.

Later, as Earth continues rotating, the Leonid radiant moves higher into the sky, along with its host constellation and all the stars. Meteors will strike the atmosphere at a more direct angle, Lunsford explains, creating shorter paths. But the paths will still span much of the sky, so you don't need to face East. In fact, the best views will be everywhere but directly East.

Just go out, look up.

Fireballs

Most Leonid meteors are created by sand-sized grains of dust that vaporize about 60 miles up due to the friction caused by Earth's atmosphere. But Tempel-Tuttle, the comet that has left all this Leonid raw material in space, also deposits a few larger chunks of itself each time it swings around the Sun (which it does every 33 years).

A comet fragment the size of a marble can generate a glorious fireball of light as it burns up. Instead of slicing through the atmosphere like a small bit of dust, such a pebble sometimes goes splat upon meeting up with a certain density of air.

"The Leonids can have fireballs, but they're not especially noted for them," said Bill Cooke, a meteor researcher at NASA (news - web sites)'s Marshall Space Flight Center. Cooke said the number of fireballs each year depends in part on which streams of cometary debris Earth plows through.

In 1998, observers noted several fireballs when the planet moved through a stream that comet Tempel-Tuttle had deposited in the 14th Century. The Sun's radiation had blown much of that ancient dust into a widely dispersed region of space, so the 1998 Leonids did not produce a great number of shooting stars.

But the larger material -- fireball material -- was still relatively concentrated. In fact, Cooke said, scientists are learning that gravity acts on these larger fragments, causing them to be huddled more closely together over time. They call the process "gravitational focusing."

So what are the chances for fireballs this year?

People in Asia will see shooting stars caused by material that has been waiting to be swallowed up by Earth since 1633, so there should be some fireballs there, Cooke said. The North American peak will be caused by material left by Tempel-Tuttle in the 1700s, however, and should provide fewer fireballs, but probably still some.

Cooke is quick to point out that the Leonids can surprise, however. There could be fewer meteors overall. Or there could be more fireballs. Meteor forecasting is a young profession. And, for now at least, meteor showers are still somewhat strange -- even to the scientists.

LEONIDS SPECIAL REPORT: When, where and how to watch, plus a full forecast

Visit SPACE.com for more space-related news including videos, launch coverage and interactive experiences. Check out our huge collection of Image Galleries and Satellite Views from Space. Follow the latest developments in the search for life in our universe in our SETI: Search for Life section. Sign up for our free daily email newsletter today!

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Wow!


TOPICS: Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: archaeology; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; realscience
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Remember, EARLY Sunday morning is "the really big shew", as Ed Sullivan used to say. . .

Or, as the song said "Tonight's the Night!. . ."

1 posted on 11/17/2001 3:31:40 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: MeeknMing
Now REALLY!?

What pray tell was it that Brezhnev did to deserve to have a meteor storm named just after him???????

2 posted on 11/17/2001 3:46:19 AM PST by AmericanInTokyo
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To: MeeknMing
did not see a thing this a.m.
3 posted on 11/17/2001 4:12:22 AM PST by Rustynailww
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To: Rustynailww
Me neither and this bed is to cozy to go out in the PNW air to look again. If anyone else here in the NW sees anything give me a hollar will ya. Then I will go freeze might rear in the Coast Mountain air.
4 posted on 11/17/2001 4:19:46 AM PST by oceanperch
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To: MeeknMing
Thanks for the reminder. :) Awesome picture! My lawn chair, blankets, and coffee are waiting, and the alarm is set (just in case.) Planning on crashing early today to acclimate myself...I don't want to miss this years show...Too much chance for an amazing display! Estimates are still at 70/minute or 4200/ hour.
5 posted on 11/17/2001 4:27:29 AM PST by callisto
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To: *RealScience; Thinkin' Gal; babylonian; Prodigal Daughter; TrueBeliever9; blam
Fire and brimstone incoming.
6 posted on 11/17/2001 4:44:35 AM PST by 2sheep
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To: oceanperch; Rustynailww
Me neither and this bed is to cozy to go out in the PNW air to look again. If anyone else here in the NW sees anything give me a hollar will ya. Then I will go freeze might rear in the Coast Mountain air.

A day early, guys! Try tonight/EARLY tomorrow morning!

Hey, Oceanperch: I don't blame ya for wantin' to stay there. I used to live in Spokane, Washington back in the mid-late 60s. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of this country. Here in Texas? Still prairie land and temps in the 70s! The more things change, the more they remain the same. . .

;-)

7 posted on 11/17/2001 4:55:01 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: AmericanInTokyo
What pray tell was it that Brezhnev did to deserve to have a meteor storm named just after him???????

;-)

8 posted on 11/17/2001 4:57:20 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: AmericanInTokyo
What pray tell was it that Brezhnev did to deserve to have a meteor storm named just after him???????

The commie b@$+@rd died!

Thank GOD!

:->

9 posted on 11/17/2001 5:04:56 AM PST by Thumper1960
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To: MeeknMing
Tip: Around mid-night is the best time for Leonids because thats when you may get to see some grazers.
A bunch of little ones around 4 or 5 am arent as cool.
10 posted on 11/17/2001 5:09:00 AM PST by aquawrench
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To: callisto
My lawn chair, blankets, and coffee are waiting,

You will be a smaller target if you are standing.

11 posted on 11/17/2001 5:29:58 AM PST by 2sheep
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To: 2sheep
"Fire and brimstone incoming."

Yup. No-one knows for sure how big the 'grazers' will be. Possible headlines: "Astronomers were completely suprised at the numerous meteorite impacts around the globe." Or, "Islamists see sign from Allah, renew fighting."

12 posted on 11/17/2001 5:37:46 AM PST by blam
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To: MeeknMing
(Okay so I'm a worry wart, I'm a catastrophist.)

A cosmic trail with destruction in its wake

by Nick Nuttall
Copyright 1990 Times Newspapers Limited The Times, May 24, 1990, Thursday

Over the next few weeks the Taurid stream, a procession of vast cosmic rubble and dust that snakes around the Sun and out towards Jupiter, will swing through Earth's orbit for the first of its bi-annual crossings.

Within the stream are probably thousands of bodies including asteroids, mountain-and island-sized boulders, smaller meteoroids, Encke's Comet and assorted fragments of celestial refuse.

The exact number, size and location of objects, however, remains a mystery and according to Dr. Mark Bailey, research Fellow in astronomy at Manchester University, it is likely that for every object which is confirmed, there are nine others that have so far eluded detection.

All that is certain is that the rubble, believed by some astronomers to have been formed by a collision in the asteroid belt of a defunct comet which was captured by the solar system up to 30,000 thousand years ago, will bisect Earth's orbit in late June and again in November.

According to astronomers such as Dr. Victor Clube, of Oxford University's Department of Astrophysics, the coming and goings of the Taurid stream should be a source of concern to politicians, planners and anyone who cherishes life on Earth.

A ''catastrophist'', Dr. Clube is one of many astronomers who are convinced that within this celestial procession lie the seeds of mass destruction an Armageddon of biblical proportions. ''The matter requires urgent attention. It is crucial that everyone is woken up to the danger,'' Dr. Clube says.

The chilling scenario envisaged is of Earth and one of the 46,000mph objects in the Taurid stream colliding during one of the orbital crossings.

Dr. Clube says: ''It is analagous to a nuclear war with a megatonnage of the same order and all the effects of nuclear war with debris from the impact causing sunlight to be blocked causing a Dark Age or Ice Age.''

He has coined the phrase ''Multiple Tunguska Bombardment'' to describe the worst nightmare which, he believes, will eventually happen. Tunguska refers to a Siberian River near which, in June 1908, a 100 yard body from the Taurid stream ploughed into Earth, exploding and devastating an area 25 miles wide with the impact of a 20-megaton bomb.

Fortunately the encounter occured in an unpopulated part of the globe but if the impact had been on London it would have devastated the city, killing millions. The Tunguska event may have been only a chance occurence.

Yet, according to Dr. Clube and Dr. Bill Napier, of the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, whose book Cosmic Winter is published next month, the history of Earth is littered with subtle evidence that cosmic debris have consistently intervened, often with catastrophic consequences.

One of the most popular theories to explain the sudden demise of the dinosaurs is that, 65 million years ago, a huge asteroid ploughed into the planet, triggering either a nuclear-style winter or huge fires.

This popular theory was given a boost only last week when scientists at the University of Arizona reported the discovery of an apparent 180-mile-wide crash site in the Caribbean of an asteroid six miles wide. They claim this could be linked with the great reptiles' extinction.

Dr. Clube ascribes other events including the Old Testament story of Noah and his Ark to a Dark Age linked with colliding heavenly bodies. He also believes that climatic changes, including fears of present global warming, may have a cosmic component.

There is sufficient evidence, he says, to indicate that collisions happen within centuries and millenniums rather than millions and billions of years, with multiple encounters more likely than sceptics claim.

Dr. Clube emphasizes that predicting when a bombardment may occur is impossible without more scientific evaluation of the Taurid stream. ''We are probably a little safer at the moment because the intersecting orbits are far away. But we are on the inward run and in 500 years we will start getting close again,'' he says.

According to Dr. Clube, the last time that the stream was closest within Earth's orbit was in the first millennium BC, from about 500BC up to 0AD, the time of Christ.

It is vital to overcome complacency about the threat from cosmic debris, he says. This complacency is relatively new, as pagan and ancient civilisations such as the Babylonians were firm believers in the threat of of cosmic destruction. Part of the blame for this complacency rests with the breakup, in 1845, of Comet Biela without any easily visible effect on Earth.

''This rather relaxed attiude to comets, which has persisted to the present day, helped turn 19th century opinion against a prevailing catastrophist view of evolution,'' Dr. Clube says.

''Indeed, the eventual disintegration of Comet Biela into dust made it no longer out of place for biologists and geologists to explain evolution in processes that were non-violent and slow-acting.''

''In short, it became fashionable to assume that the world is safe when in fact multiple Tunguska bombardments, releasing around five-thousand megatons, the equivalent of a full-scale nuclear war, may happen at intervals of about 1,500 years, producing a Dark Age,'' he says.''To suggest the planet is safe is absurd.'' The Oxford astrophysicist is not alone in his views. Similar concerns were echoed last week by the respected American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

The institute is calling for studies aimed at defending the Earth from asteroid attack, including the possible redeployment of nuclear weapons to shatter incoming celestial bodies.

The call comes in the wake of thawing East-West relations and what is being claimed as a recent, potentially disastrous near-collision.

Last year, 1989 FC, a cosmic boulder bigger than an aircraft carrier, passed within 400,000 miles of Earth, a mere whisker in astronomical terms, before being noticed by astronomers.

''Such an object could cause a disaster of unprecedented proportions if it had struck. Although the probability is very small, its consequences in terms of the casuality rate could be enormous,'' the institute argues in a paper it released about the problem.

Apart from putting nuclear warheads on standby for intercepting and shattering asteroids, the institute is calling for studies into power units that could attach and divert the celestial boulders away from Earth.

''We have the technology needed to detect and track such an object and possibly to divert if from an impending impact. We would be derelict if we did nothing,'' the institute says.

Dr. Clube is hoping to get access to an infra-red telescope to study the Taurid stream during the November crossover.

In 1983, a satellite revealed what appeared to be dust following Comet Encke, but some scientists, including Dr. Clube, now believe that this contains the single large missing body, perhaps as large as 20 miles wide, shrouded in dust and boulders.

The best chance of detecting the defunct comet might come in 1994 when the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) is expected to launch the infra-red telescope, ISO.

Dr. Bailey says: ''We are learning more about these objects almost every week. We are realizing that there are quite a large number of fairly large objects, ranging in size from just a few hundred yards to six miles across, which are in Earth's collision orbit.''

Along with Dr. Bailey, Dr. Clube supports the institute's call for improved monitoring. But both British astronomers are concerned at suggestions of shattering incoming asteroids.

They believe that there is the danger that by solving one large threat, it may create scores of smaller ones. Cosmic Winter by Dr. Victor Clube and Dr. Bill Napier. Published in June by Basil Blackwell (Pounds 16.95). The Origin of Comets by Dr. Mark Bailey, Dr. Victor Clube and Dr. Bill Napier. Pergamon Press.

13 posted on 11/17/2001 5:57:02 AM PST by blam
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To: blam
Cosmic Winter by Dr. Victor Clube and Dr. Bill Napier. Published in June by Basil Blackwell (Pounds 16.95). The Origin of Comets by Dr. Mark Bailey, Dr. Victor Clube and Dr. Bill Napier. Pergamon Press.(This is an excellent book as is , "Exodus to Arthur," by Mike Baillie.)
14 posted on 11/17/2001 6:01:25 AM PST by blam
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To: All
NASA TV: Four astronomers will host a live Leonid meteor watch this Sunday morning on NASA Television and NASA Web TV. Via email, you can ask questions or share your own meteor sightings during the TV show. Tune in to the 6-hr broadcast beginning 30 minutes past midnight EST (0530 UT) on Nov. 18th

15 posted on 11/17/2001 6:17:57 AM PST by callisto
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To: blam
As a kid, I used to watch and chart meteors in my backyard. I've seen fireballs--one in particular was huge. Now I live in Chicago; it is an unusually smoggy day here. I wonder how far I'd have to drive to see anything!!
16 posted on 11/17/2001 6:18:44 AM PST by Hagrid
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To: blam
Hey blam.
Wouldn't it be cool to have a little space rock land in the yard.

Remember the story on FR a couple of years ago about the fellow who had space rock land in his yard and being a good citizen called the local Sherriffs' Dept.
They took his space rock never to return it. He was suing to get it back (do not know what happen) and he had a nice sum of money offered to him from a University to take ownership. I wonder did her ever get his space rock back from the Govt. body who took it?
17 posted on 11/17/2001 6:20:12 AM PST by oceanperch
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To: oceanperch
"I wonder did her ever get his space rock back from the Govt. body who took it?"

I don't know. In the '50's an Alabama woman had one crash through her roof and hit her in the thigh. You can have all the rocks, I'll stick with the beach sand.

18 posted on 11/17/2001 6:30:55 AM PST by blam
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To: callisto
Good find Thanks!
19 posted on 11/17/2001 6:35:57 AM PST by oceanperch
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To: MeeknMing
IMPACTING SOON!
20 posted on 11/17/2001 8:28:01 AM PST by green team 1999
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To: 2sheep
Or signs in the sky, bright stars in the East.
21 posted on 11/17/2001 8:49:32 AM PST by Lucky
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To: blam
Within the stream are probably thousands of bodies including asteroids, mountain-and island-sized boulders, smaller meteoroids, Encke's Comet and assorted fragments of celestial refuse.

I remember hiking and walking under waterfalls when I was a kid.  On the outside one was in a mist. As I walked closer to the main falls, the power and intensity and size of the water increased in size.  Wouldn't this also be the case with this Leonid storm?

22 posted on 11/17/2001 12:12:54 PM PST by 2sheep
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To: MeeknMing; CheneyChick; vikingchick; WIMom; one_particular_harbour; kmiller1k; Victoria Delsoul...
Growl for the Leonids.


23 posted on 11/17/2001 1:00:09 PM PST by Sabertooth
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To: MeeknMing
Tonight? More like tomorrow morning before 5. I plan to watch from my tree stand. Nice way to pass the time until daylight.
24 posted on 11/17/2001 1:05:48 PM PST by Texaggie79
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To: MeeknMing
'don't you know that you are a shooting star'? (bad co.)
25 posted on 11/17/2001 1:10:22 PM PST by rockfish59
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To: MeeknMing
re; #8. Great smiley face! When is your next class and where do I sign up?
26 posted on 11/17/2001 1:17:59 PM PST by tubebender
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To: blam
Catastrophist Bump!
27 posted on 11/17/2001 1:33:16 PM PST by headsonpikes
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To: Sabertooth
Thanks for the info.
28 posted on 11/17/2001 2:01:09 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul
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To: 2sheep
"Wouldn't this also be the case with this Leonid storm?

Yes, that is the 'gravity lensing' they're talking about.

29 posted on 11/17/2001 2:39:39 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
Within the stream are probably thousands of bodies including asteroids, mountain-and island-sized boulders...

Huh. Sounds sort of Biblical, the mountains falling and all.

30 posted on 11/17/2001 2:54:41 PM PST by Slyfox
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To: Slyfox
"According to Dr. Clube, the last time that the stream was closest within Earth's orbit was in the first millennium BC, from about 500BC up to 0AD, the time of Christ.

You didn't miss this did you. Would make for good 'fire and brimstone' bibical writing, huh?

31 posted on 11/17/2001 3:01:27 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
I guess I did miss it. Where was that?
32 posted on 11/17/2001 3:15:59 PM PST by Slyfox
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To: Slyfox
"I guess I did miss it. Where was that?"

Up in the text. lol

33 posted on 11/17/2001 3:34:31 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
"Yes, that is the 'gravity lensing' they're talking about."

Oops. I meant to say, 'gravity focusing'. 'Gravity lensing' is an entirely different subject.

34 posted on 11/17/2001 3:38:32 PM PST by blam
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To: MeeknMing
We're driving down before midnight to Galvaston beach, and going to stay up all night and watch!
35 posted on 11/17/2001 4:10:25 PM PST by walden
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To: blam
No doubt about it, sometime in the next several million years we're going to have a SERIOUS problem. GEEZ! How can you worry about something so amorphous?
36 posted on 11/17/2001 4:13:36 PM PST by walden
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To: walden
We're driving down before midnight to Galvaston beach, and going to stay up all night and watch!

Enjoy! Please let me know how it is, friend! I'm gonna check it out from my back yard tonight and EARLY AM! ;-)

37 posted on 11/17/2001 4:13:43 PM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: MeeknMing
I don't think you can see anything here in the LA Basin!

Rats, thanks for the article!

38 posted on 11/17/2001 4:15:16 PM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
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To: rockfish59
"Don't you know, yeah, don't you know. Don't you know that you are a shooting star. And all the world will love you just as long, As long as you are." My fav singer Paul Rodgers!!!
39 posted on 11/17/2001 4:28:07 PM PST by Donna Lee Nardo
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To: 2sheep
I've read that Comet Temple-Tuttle comes closest to the sun every 33 years. Our lord was 33 when he departed and was carried off to heaven.Coincidence?
St.Mat 28 18 "All power is given unto me in heaven and earth"
40 posted on 11/17/2001 4:39:14 PM PST by rubofthebrush
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To: Hagrid
well, looking at a map of illinois.....probably pretty damned far! try marfa, texas!!
(coming back from there at night i have never seen so many stars in my life. and i DON'T mean hollywood types either!)
41 posted on 11/17/2001 4:45:22 PM PST by rockfish59
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To: blam
''Multiple Tunguska Bombardment'' to describe the worst nightmare which, he believes, will eventually happen.

Actually, this is more likely to not happen ever. We have plans for these drifting mountains. Business plans.

42 posted on 11/17/2001 4:48:27 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: Donna Lee Nardo
he is mine too. i have their 'anthology' and the song 'hammer of love' (released in 1998) is pure bad co.!
tons of hits on the 2 CD's. i remember the ad for their 1st album:

'say girl, does your mama know you're keeping bad company' (something like that)

43 posted on 11/17/2001 4:51:30 PM PST by rockfish59
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To: tubebender
it's easy:

;-)
{:^)
[:-)
=^)
=*]
:#)
=v)

44 posted on 11/17/2001 5:04:58 PM PST by rockfish59
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To: tubebender
it's easy:

;-)
{:^)
[:-)
=^)
=*]
:#)
=v)

45 posted on 11/17/2001 5:05:31 PM PST by rockfish59
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To: Sabertooth
bump
46 posted on 11/17/2001 5:23:59 PM PST by vikingchick
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To: MeeknMing
I'm home in Pocatello, ID tonight. The weather report calls for SNOW SHOWERS from 10 PM to 2 AM, then partly cloudy. It figures.
47 posted on 11/17/2001 5:45:08 PM PST by Myrddin
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To: Myrddin
I'm home in Pocatello, ID tonight. The weather report calls for SNOW SHOWERS from 10 PM to 2 AM, then partly cloudy. It figures.
Soooooo sorry! I just stuck my nose out and clear so far here. Forecast for "cloudy" though, so may see overcast before the "Really Big Shew"??? Hope not though. . .
48 posted on 11/17/2001 6:19:28 PM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: Sabertooth
Off to the Florida Everglades! Bump! Been waiting on this one for awhile.
49 posted on 11/17/2001 6:25:27 PM PST by My Favorite Headache
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To: Sabertooth
And yes I will be blasting Cygnus X-1 and Chain Lightning from Rush as I watch the show.
50 posted on 11/17/2001 6:26:16 PM PST by My Favorite Headache
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