A rare meteor shower could light up the sky this week – but you’ll have to be up early to catch it.
Early on Friday morning, hundreds of shooting stars will scorch through the sky at about 4.15 GMT.
This shower is known as the alpha Monocerotids and is quite rare, with the last major display happening in 1995.
The ‘outburst’ is caused when debris from the tail of a long and as-yet-undiscovered comet burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Astronomers Esko Lyytinen and Peter Jenniskens both think we’re in for a treat this year.
They said we could see 400 shooting stars or even as many as 1,000, which would make the event a meteor storm.
They said: ‘There is a good chance to observe a short-lived outburst of the alpha Monocerotids in the morning of November 22.
‘Observers are encouraged to watch for possible alpha Monocerotids in the last hours of the night, from 4h15m UT onwards. If an outburst takes place it is likely to be centred around 4h50m UT with a duration of 15 up to 40 minutes maximum.’
A Nasa meteor shower expert said it was important to be on time to watch the celestial wonder and warned that it may not be quite as spectacular as predicted.
‘I am all too aware of the fact that such predictions (including mine), while pretty accurate on the timing, often estimate a shower intensity higher (factors of a few) than what actually takes place,’ wrote Bill Cooke of the Nasa Meteoroid Environment Office.
‘So I decided to take a more detailed look, starting with some dumpster diving for old papers about this shower and making a few calculations of my own. That’s when the skepticism kicked in – I now think there is a pretty good chance there may be no outburst at all. And even if there is, it won’t be as impressive as many think.’
However, he said it was still worth getting outside to watch the meteors and offered the following advice: ‘Remember, you need clear, dark skies to see meteors, and it looks like Mother Nature is going to be mean, with clouds forecast over much of the part of the U.S. that has a chance of observing the outburst.
‘So, if you are gifted with good seeing, give yourself about 45 minutes to adjust to the dark – go out about 10:35 PM Eastern, 9:35 PM Central, or 8:35 PM Mountain. Lie flat on your back, look straight up, and enjoy looking at the night sky (maybe listen to some appropriate tunes, but don’t look at your cell phone, as the bright screen will ruin your night vision).
‘If Jenniskens and Lyytinen are right, you might see some pieces of a comet that awaits discovery, burning up in the atmosphere 60 miles above your head.’
If the weather turns out to be cloudy, you will be able to see all the action on the Virtual Telescope website.