Obscure meteor shower set to blow up in an outburst of shooting stars
You may not know the Alpha Monocerotids shower, but it could storm the night skies later this month.
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A minor meteor shower that largely goes ignored could produce hundreds of shooting stars in less than an hour later this week.
You might know the Perseids, the Taurids, the Orionids, even the Draconids, but the Alpha Monocerotids is nowhere near the most well-known of the many annual meteor showers. Yet this year it may be the most impressive.
A new prediction co-authored by a NASA research scientist says we could get an outburst of the Alpha Monocerotids on the evening of Nov. 21 and early morning hours of Nov. 22, depending on your location.
Normally, meteor showers produce anywhere from a handful to a few dozen visible "shooting stars" per hour during their peaks. But every now and then Earth drifts through a particularly dense pocket of dust and galactic gravel left behind by visiting comets. When that happens, we get so-called "outbursts" of meteor activity that produce hundreds of meteors per hour or even a meteor "storm," typically defined as over 1,000 meteors per hour.
A short paper by meteor researcher Esko Lyytinen and Peter Jenniskens from NASA and the SETI Institute reassesses the Monocerotids dust trail and finds a "good chance" of a short-lived outburst or perhaps even a meteor storm.
They predict that the boost in activity will be brief, so you'll want to pencil it into your schedule if you want to catch it.
See the Perseid meteor shower make a celestial scene worldwide
"Anyone who is going to try to observe should not be late at all. The strongest maximum would fit in about 15 minutes, or maybe a little bit less. It will be almost completely over in about 40 minutes," the paper reads.
In North America, the show could start between 8:15 and 8:30 p.m. PT (4:30 a.m. UTC) on the evening of Nov. 21. Viewing won't be great from the west coast, but you might be able to catch some meteoroids that appear to be originating from low on the eastern horizon.
The prospects get a little better as you move east toward the Atlantic and Europe, where the meteors will appear higher in the sky, but also obviously later in the evening and into the morning of the 22nd as you move further east.
Meteor outbursts can be hard to predict and there's no guarantee this one will materialize from your viewing location, but if it does deliver, it'll be an evening to remember.