November 16, 2001 11:00 pm

A moonless night and clear skies could combine tonight for what astronomers believe will be the best meteor show of our lifetime. The Leonids meteor display, skywatchers say, should be worth staying up late for.

Its now or never.

Astronomers dont think well see another storm like this one until the year 2099. We will probably never see a better meteor showers in our lifetimes, said Robert Naeye of the Astronomy Society of the Pacific.

There arent a lot of us who will be around in the year 2099, so anyone who enjoys a good sky show ought to think about taking a look skyward about 2 a.m. Sunday. Its late, or early, depending on your perspective, but if astronomers know what theyre talking about, well be able to see according to the most optimistic forecasts a steady storm of 4,000 meteors per hour. The show might be worth losing a little sleep over.

And the best thing about this years Leonids meteor shower is that you wont have to travel to the Gobi Desert or the Canary Islands to view it. North America will be squarely beneath the shooting stars.

The Leonids are dust particles shed by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, according to AP science writer Joseph Verrengia. The comet trails a cloud of dust as it orbits the sun once every 33 years. The meteors are called Leonids because they seem to radiate from the constellation Leo, the Lion. As the comet streaks close to the sun, heat causes it to shed more debris and Earth plows through its wake. It occurs every November until the particles dissipate.

The last time the Leonids caused such a tremendous display was in 1966, when observers recorded as many as 150,000 shooting stars per hour. The tiny particles burn up 15 miles from earth. One astronomer predicts the Leonids will peak at 2:09 a.m.

So if youre up to it, and provided the clouds stay away, consider staying up late or getting up early. It could be the sky show of a lifetime.

Lets help Ethan

Little Ethan Garinger of La Grande hasnt had an easy first three years. His family was involved in a car accident when he was 4 months old. The familys car plunged into the Wallowa River, and Ethan was trapped inside and was without oxygen for nearly 10 minutes. Things were touch and go for a while, but Ethan appeared to fully recover. Now, at 3, it appears Ethan is autistic.

Friends of the family are rallying around Ethan. A fund-raiser is under way so that he can receive the special therapy he needs. The community can help by buying tickets for a hog raffle that will take place Nov. 21. Tickets, at $1 each or six for $5, are available at Shopn Kart, S&G Machinery, Pendleton Grain Growers, Les Schwab, Bronson Lumber and Blue Mountain Auto.

Lets all do what we can do to see that Ethan gets the care he needs and deserves.