Shooting star seekers are likely familiar with the roster of annual meteor showers: from the Lyrids and the Perseids to the Leonids and the Geminids, many meteor showers appear each year on a reliable schedule. Friday night, though, sky watchers are going to be treated to an entirely new display—a meteor shower never before seen.
From May 23 to 24, peaking overnight, the trail of debris shed by the comet 209P/LINEAR as it passed around the Sun 200 years ago will batter the Earth's atmosphere, lighting up as it burns in the ever-thickening air.
Astronomers are expecting the display to be a good one, says Space, because the debris cloud we're about to encounter represents years worth of cometary decay. Comet LINEAR passes around the Sun every five years, but because of the geometry of the orbits we haven't hit its trail yet. The cloud of dust shed by LINEAR is “a million kilometers thick,” says Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail. Space:
"Given the current orbit of the comet, all the [debris] trails ejected between 1803 and 1924 do fall in the Earth's path in May 2014!" Jeremie Vaubaillon, of the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Éphémérides in France, told Space.com in 2012. "As a consequence, this shower might as well be a storm."
But, because the meteor shower is new, the expectation of a high number of shooting stars is just a guess.
"This potential new shower is so new that astronomers aren't sure what to expect," narrator Jane Houston Jones said in a skywatching video released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on April 30. "Predictions run from less than 100 meteors per hour up to an unlikely but possible meteor storm as high as 1,000 per hour."
To have the best chance of seeing the new meteor shower, or meteor storm, whatever the case may be, look up to the north in the early morning hours of May 24th. The shower's radiant point—where the meteors appear to be streaming from—is the constellation Camelopardalis, says Semeniuk, which is conveniently located next to the Big Dipper.
Unlike the annual showers with which you may be familiar, the LINEAR meteor storm is a one-shot deal, says Emily Chung for the CBC. If you miss it, you missed it.