May 24th Meteor Shower Could Evolve Into Spectacular Meteor Storm
A meteor shower caused by the debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR could become one of the most spectacular skywatching events of the year if it fulfils its potential later this month. Astronomers are saying that the May 23rd/24th meteor shower has the potential to become an incredible meteor storm, sending a staggering 1,000 meteors across our skies every hour. For comparison, the present Eta Aquarid meteor shower should see around 20-50 meteors falling every hour depending on where the spectacle is observed from.
However, astronomers warn that this event is such a mystery that they aren't entirely sure how significant it will be. Researchers believe that the last time Earth passed through the debris tail of Comet 209P/LINEAR was sometime back in the 1800's and as such, they have no idea what to expect when it happens again later this month.
"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800's," said NASA's Dr. Bill Cooke. "..there could be a great meteor shower - or a complete dud."
Meteor showers such as this are caused when Earth passes through the dusty trails left by high-speed comets. The harmless particles then collide into our atmosphere and charge the air around them, causing bright streaks across the sky. These particles have been known to travel into our atmosphere at speeds in excess of 150,000 mph, so it's not surprising they get a little warm in the process.
While the top end of the forecast is a spectacular 1,000 meteors per hour, the lower end of most astronomer's predictions sits around 100 meteors per hour. 100 per hour is still a pretty decent number, so we'd recommend any avid skywatcher put May 24th 2014 in their diaries.
The event should be observable for people around the globe, although those in North America are expected to get the best view with models predicting the shower will peak during the night time hours across the continent. To stand the best chance of catching the potentially mind-blowing show, observers should head out at around 2am-4am EST when the meteors will be high in the night sky.