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StarDate: Looking For A New Meteor Shower

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FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS McDONALD OBSERVATORY, AS HEARD ON KCBS RADIO WEEKDAYS @ 9:52 A.M., 7:35 P.M. & 2:52 A.M

STARDATE 5/22/2014: A brand new meteor shower could light up the pre-dawn sky on Saturday, perhaps firing off hundreds of “shooting stars.”

The shower would be spawned by debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR, which was discovered in 2004. It orbits the Sun once every five years, shedding grains of rock and dirt along its path. These bits of debris spread out, forming streamers. If Earth flies through one of the streamers, some of the comet dust slams into the upper atmosphere. The particles quickly vaporize, forming the streaks of light known as meteors.

Several meteor shower experts say that’s just what will happen before dawn on Saturday. Earth will pass through several of the comet’s debris streams at about the same time, peppering our planet with countless bits of dust. Some estimates say that could produce around a hundred meteors per hour. Bolder predictions say the hourly rate could top a thousand. We haven’t seen such an impressive display since the Leonid meteor shower in 2001.

The shower’s peak should come between midnight and dawn for most of the United States. The meteors will appear to “rain” into the sky from the faint constellation Camelopardalis, the giraffe, which is low in the north. Individual meteors can shoot across any part of the sky, though, so you won’t need to look in a specific direction to see them. The Moon will be a thin crescent, so its feeble light won’t hinder the show — if there’s a show at all.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield Copyright ©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory

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