Skywatchers say parts of the world could see a brief, brilliant meteor outburst known as the Alpha Monocerotids on Thursday night, but NASA notes that it’ll be at the wrong time for the U.S. West Coast.
Why it’s a big deal: The meteor shower — which takes its name from the brightest star in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn — is a rare beast. It yields significant shooting stars only when Earth’s orbit runs through a particular patch of space, as it did in 1985 and 1995. This time around, meteor scientists Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen say the best-placed observers could see hundreds of meteors in just an hour.
Why it’s no big deal: It’ll be dark over North America for the projected peak, sometime between 8:15 and 9:25 p.m. PT Thursday. But NASA’s Bill Cooke is pessimistic about the prospects for an outburst, and he points out that the point of origin for the Alpha Monocerotids won’t even be above the horizon for locations west of Denver. “That means people on the Pacific Coast will not see this outburst, even if their skies are clear,” Cooke writes.
What to watch for: If you’re on the U.S. East Coast or in Western Europe, it’s worth keeping watch from a dark place at the appointed time. If you’re in Seattle, your safest bet might be to watch the skies for other attractions such as the International Space Station or SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, and watch Twitter to find out whether the meteors went boom or bust. The next sure thing for meteor-watchers will be the Geminids on Dec. 13-14.