You may never have heard of the Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower, but it’s expected to put on a spectacular show with fiery streaks of light Thursday night as the Earth plows through a narrow but dense trail of dusty comet debris.
Whether you’ll see it depends on where you live, and whether skies are clear overhead. And you’ll want to carefully time your skygazing.
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The Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower, which favors the eastern U.S., is usually so sleepy that it typically passes without notice. But this year, circumstances appear excellent for an outburst.
Scientists just announced in a research paper that although the comet that produced the debris is still unknown, there’s a good chance the Alpha Monocerotids will produce a short-lived outburst that could produce anywhere from 100 to 1,000 shooting stars an hour.
On the East Coast, the shower should peak around 11:50 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The farther west a person lives, the lower the chances of seeing the shooting stars.
Those living in the Rocky Mountains and the desert Southwest should look toward the sky around 9:50 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. The radiant point for the shower will be near the horizon, so any meteors seen will be “earthgrazers” that skim the atmosphere nearly level with the horizon but could leave long, colorful and persistent trails, according to Space.com.
On the West Coast, skywatchers may catch a few meteors around 8:50 p.m. That’s because the radiant point will be low in the sky.
The last time the Alpha Monocerotids produced an outburst was in 1995, but it also happened in 1925, 1935 and 1985, the Farmers’ Almanac reported.
In his book, “Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets,” NASA and SETI (Search for Artificial Intelligence) research scientist Peter Jenniskens described the phenomenon as seen in Spain in 1985:
“Suddenly … three meteors radiated from a point on the border of the constellations Canis Major and Monoceros, 15 degrees away from the position (radiant) given in past accounts. And this time it did not stop after just a few. Meteors started pouring out of Canis Minor, falling left and right, up and down. Bright meteors, too.”
It was a brilliant but quick display. Within 20 minutes, they were falling at a rate of five or more a minute. In another 20 minutes, the show was over.
But, Jenniskens wrote, “emotions were strong when the stream peaked that night on Calar Alto, and we broke down in tears.”