'Unicorn' Meteor Shower From Unknown Comet Returning to Skies After 24 Years Tomorrow Night

Wednesday, 20 November 2019 - 7:38AM
Wednesday, 20 November 2019 - 7:38AM
'Unicorn' Meteor Shower From Unknown Comet Returning to Skies After 24 Years Tomorrow Night
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The last time the Alpha Monocerotids meteor showers were seen was 1995 – right in the middle of what some of us at Outer Places (me) would argue was the worst decade of the second half of the 20th century – with a stunning show of 400 visible meteors per hour. Now, astronomers are saying that they could – there's nothing guaranteed in life except death and taxes, skywatchers – be reappearing tomorrow night between 11pm and 12am Eastern Time for another go-round, probably checking in to see if our taste in music has gotten any better since the ill-fated grunge years. 


What makes the Alpha Monocerotids so unique is that although they, like all meteor showers, occur when Earth passes through the dusty tail of a comet, the comet itself is unknown. Naturally, this leads me to consider the possibility that this is not a comet at all, but rather the blast of an orbiting mega-spacecraft that is reconsidering clearing our solar system to make way for a giant cosmic freeway. My speculation aside, Accuweather reports that the Monocerotids get their name from Monoceros, a faint constellation (a unicorn, in case you were hoping for a tie-in to the headline) that can be seen to the left of Orion where they appear to originate.


Your chances of seeing this unicorn event may be hampered by weather if you're on the east coast, with Californians and those in the north-central United States getting the best possibility of a show. Still, don't get your hopes up: the Monocerotids don't last long. The American Meteor Society (AMS) says that "Unlike most meteor outbursts which last for several hours, strong activity from the alpha Monocertids is over within an hour and easily missed" and note that you may only see five to ten meteors per hour. If that's enough to get you out of the house, the AMS advises to "start viewing the sky at least an hour before the predicted time of maximum activity in case the timing estimates are in error. Do not stand and observe, rather use a comfortable lounge chair with plenty of blankets to keep warm."


If it is an orbiting mega-spacecraft, well, we told you so. 
Science
Astronomy