New meteor shower could make for heavenly viewing

The May Camelopardalids could make a fantastic debut in the night skies over North America Friday night. Here's what you need to know to take in the show.

Could the May Camelopardalids compete with the August Perseids? David Kingham

Night skywatchers are anticipating a rare debut of a never-before-seen meteor shower this Friday and Saturday evening. The cosmic premiere of the May Camelopardalids could even rival the prolific Perseid shower in August, according to NASA.

"Some forecasters have predicted a meteor storm of more than 200 meteors per hour," said Bill Cooke, of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

The source of the space rock shower is Earth's path through debris that was ejected by the comet 209P/LINEAR when it visited our solar system in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. So just how spectacular the show will be depends on how much dust the comet was throwing off during those visits.


"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s. The parent comet doesn't appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show, or there could be little activity," added Cooke.

North America gets the best shot at viewing the Camelopardalids -- so named because they will be centered in the constellation of Camelopardalis, the "camel leopard," which you might know better as a giraffe.

The ideal observing time begins at 11 p.m. PDT on the evening of Friday May 23 and continues for a few hours.

Because this is a new shower, there's a very low level of certainty around just how visible the meteors will be and how frequent they'll be. Right now the source comet is not very active, but what counts is how active it was in the previous three centuries, and that's what no one is sure about.

Regardless, I advise grabbing a seat on your favorite hammock with your favorite beverage -- be it hot chocolate or hot toddy -- and enjoying the show, if there is one.