Astronomers across Turtle Island will be scouring the skies on Friday night in hopes of catching a cascade of stars, and we’re not talking the red carpet kind.
If the brand-new Camelopardalid meteor shower indeed comes to pass, it would be the first—and only—sight of what could be a firestorm of shooting stars, astronomers say.
Just train your eyes to the skies between 2 and 4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the night of Friday May 23 to Saturday May 24 and you too could enjoy the show, say EarthSky.org and NASA.
It’s dust from the periodic comet 209P/LINEAR, discovered in 2004 and never before seen by the casual observer. Comet 209P/LINEAR is “an obscure, dim comet that circles the Sun every 5.1 years,” as Sky and Telescope describes it. It radiates from a faint, little-known constellation known as Camelopardalis, the giraffe, which hovers near the North Star.
The best option for seeing the potential 100 to 200 meteors per hour—one to two per minute—is from a dark location, Sky and Telescope says. There is a slight chance, though, that this could become a meteor storm of 1,000 hourly.
“This year the Camelopardalids could put on a display that rivals the well-known Perseids of August,” according to a statement from NASA.
"Some forecasters have predicted more than 200 meteors per hour," said NASA astronomer Bill Cooke.
Thing is, it’s not a sure thing. Astronomers agree that Earth will pass through the debris stream from this comet, but no one knows how much debris is waiting. It was left by the comet more than a century ago, and is thus a complete unknown.
"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s," said Cooke. "There could be a great meteor shower—or a complete dud."
Either way, the one-time nature of this opportunity makes it worth getting up early—or staying up late, depending on how you want to work it. Below, NASA explains why, and gives local times for best viewing.