Skywatchers may be in for an unexpected delight this week.
On May 23 and 24, the Earth will pass through a stream of debris left behind by a comet called Comet 209P/LINEAR nearly 200 years ago. The event will likely deliver a brilliant display, which will be the first of its kind. Astronomers have preemptively dubbed it the Camelopardalid meteor shower.
For the first time, the Camelopardalids will radiate a faint constellation in the northern hemisphere called Camelopardalis. Estimates put the shower's peak in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday. For observers in the Eastern Time Zone, the prime time to see the shooting stars will be from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. EDT on May 24.
The possibly new meteor shower could beat out the Perseids for the title of best celestial spectacle of the year. (The annual Perseid meteor shower is widely regarded as one of the brightest displays of shooting stars.) However, since this will be the inaugural Camelopardalid meteor shower, the rate of meteors per hour is difficult to predict.
"Some forecasters have predicted more than 200 meteors per hour," Dr. Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a written statement. But, he added, "[w]e have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s."
Either way, scientists expect there will be something to see when the Earth passes through the comet's debris.
"Over the past 15 or 20 years, astronomers have done a very good job at figuring out, 'OK, here's where the debris streams will lie,'" Rich Talcott, senior editor of Astronomy magazine, told The News-Press. "I'm thinking the odds are pretty good we'll get something nice May 24."
If you can't go outside to see the meteor shower, the Slooh space camera has got you covered with a live broadcast. Watch the celestial show, starting on Friday at 11 p.m. EDT, in the video above.
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