Tonight's Meteor Shower Will Be Like Watching the Jump to Light Speed

Illustration for article titled Tonight's Meteor Shower Will Be Like Watching the Jump to Light Speed

Already being hyped as one of the best of 2014—with some calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience—the Camelopardalids meteor shower, which starts tonight, will also be unlike many meteor showers you might have seen: Instead of lights streaming across the sky diagonally, the meteors will be radiating out from a very visible point in the sky. WHOA.

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What makes this meteor shower so awesome? The comet for this shower is a newly discovered one called 209P/LINEAR, which will pass by Earth next week. It will not only be traveling more slowly than the typical comet, it will supposedly shed larger particles than normal, which translates to more lights moving through the sky for us. Astronomers are predicting 100 to 400 visible meteors per hour, which is exceptionally high.

As far as the special path the meteors will be taking, every meteor shower has a "radiant," a place that the meteors appear to be originating from. Often the radiant is low in the sky or hidden behind the horizon. Because this shower will be will be radiating from a place near the constellation Camelopardalis (the giraffe), near the North Star, for the people in the viewing area (which is pretty much all of North America) the shower will appear to be racing towards us from a central, fixed point in the northern sky.

Illustration for article titled Tonight's Meteor Shower Will Be Like Watching the Jump to Light Speed

The fun kicks off tonight at 3:20 a.m. EDT and should continue through Saturday night as well. Slate has some great tips for how to watch and get the most out of the show. [Slate]

Top image of the Perseids meteor shower by David Kingham, map via NASA

DISCUSSION

sigmaoctans
sigmaoctans

All meteor showers radiate from a single point in the sky. The reason this one is special is not the way the meteors will fall, but the predicted frequency that could be higher because this is a debris field Earth has never travelled through before.

And it's crazy hyperbolic to say it will look like jumping to light speed. It will be relatively impressive, but getting people's hopes up for a Millennium Falcon view is going to disappoint, just like serious astronomers knew the "blood moon" wasn't going to be actually, literally blood red.