What meteor shower?

A meteor shower that is expected Friday night has never before been seen by humans, and astronomers think it could be spectacular. (They think it also could be a total bust, but let’s stay positive.)


What will it look like?

This shower will occur when Earth passes through the trail of dust left mostly in the 1800s by wonkily named comet 209P/LINEAR. When the particles hit Earth’s atmosphere, they will vaporize and leave bright trails.

Why did you say it could be a total bust?

Fine, fixate on the negative. Because it hasn’t happened before, astronomers don’t know what to expect. If the comet left a lot of debris, we could see hundreds of meteors per hour. If it didn’t leave much, we won’t see much.

Where do I look?

Up, basically. Meteors will originate near the constellation Camelopardalis, which is near the North Star, but they could show up all over the sky. People in North America will have the best view.

Why has no one seen it before?

Jupiter’s gravity just recently pulled the comet’s debris into Earth’s orbit for the first time. The comet itself is so small and unobtrusive that astronomers didn’t see it until 2004, when a new, high-tech telescope detected it while scanning the skies for asteroids.


I don’t want to get up at 2 a.m.

We don’t, either. Astronomers expect the show to begin about 10:30 p.m. and peak between 2 and 4 a.m., so try looking early.

Will these fall and hit us?

According to NASA, the particles are sand-sized to begin with and will be vaporized long before they reach Earth.

What if I blink?

As meteors go, these are not in a hurry. They will be bright and will travel at about 12 miles per second — pedestrian compared to Perseid showers and downright sloth-like compared to Leonid showers.

SOURCE: Sources: NASA, astronomer Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory; Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.. GRAPHIC: Bonnie Berkowitz and Richard Johnson - The Washington Post. Published May 22, 2014.