You've probably never heard of them, but a new meteor shower named Camelopardalids may bring the best light display in decades, astronomers say.
Discovered in 2004, the comet 209P/LINEAR is about to pass near the earth -- don't worry, 5 million miles away -- bringing a trail of debris that could make for an active night for sky watchers.
"The comet is ordinarily unheard of, but this weekend, the earth is expected to plow right through the dust and debris leftover by the comet, and may create hundreds if not thousands of 'shooting stars' late Friday night and early Saturday morning," says John Goss, with the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society.
CAMELOPARDALIDS METEOR SHOWER FACTS
WHEN: 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday morning (May 24)
WHERE: Find dark viewing location and look north. Meteors may be slower, and last longer than normal.
What you may find even more interesting is that the meteors we will see tonight are not from this pass through, rather from passes from back in the 1800s. While the comet is active now, it's uncertain just how active it was back then. That would determine the quantity and quality of tonight's meteors.
“What’s really nice about this particular comet [209P/Linear] is that we’re going right smack in the middle of these dust trails and the meteors are going to be pretty slow,” Astronomer Carl Hergenrother, a scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson says in a NASA article.
“They’re actually going to last maybe for a second or two. It’s going to look almost like slow moving fireworks instead of the usual shooting stars that we’re used to.”
If the 1800s debris was comparable to today's observations, the light show will be phenomenal.
WHERE TO LOOK
Go somewhere very dark, away from city lights, and look up. Anywhere is fine, but they will appear to originate from a northerly point (called the radiant) in the constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe.
You'll need to be a night owl. The pass-through is set to begin around 3:00 AM on the east coast. It will last for a few hours, finishing up around 5 a.m. A few fireballs may occur before/after those times, but this is the suggested peak for Virginia.
LIVE VIEWING ONLINE
If you aren't able to get outside and want to watch it online, Space.com will be hosting a live feed of the meteor shower here: http://www.space.com/19195-night-sky-planets-asteroids-webcasts.html
ALSO IN THE NIGHT SKY
The planet Venus along with the crescent moon will also be together early Sunday morning, May 25.