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Look up: ‘Unicorn’ meteor shower could produce hundreds of meteors per hour

400 meteors per hour possible under perfect conditions

Thursday is the night. The alpha Monocerotid meteor shower is typically quiet, producing just a few meteors per hour, but a handful of times in the past 100 years, the shower produced hundreds of meteors per hour. Some scientists believe 2019 could be one of those years.

Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through the debris field leftover by an asteroid or comet. Don’t be alarmed, the particles from the debris field are only the size of a grain of sand. Due to the very fast nature of the particles, they heat up and glow as they burn up hitting Earth’s atmosphere.

If the debris field from the comet or asteroid is extremely dense, hundreds or even thousands of meteors per hour will be possible. If this occurs the meteor shower is deemed a meteor storm. There’s a chance the shower Thursday night reaches these criteria.

Peter Jenniskens, a senior research scientist with SETI and NASA’s AMES Research Center, and Esko Lyytinen from Helsinki, Finland have been monitoring the shower.

If Earth passes through the dense part of the debris field as it has in previous years, we could be in for a treat. There is still some uncertainty if this will occur, but according to Jenniskens, some of the signs of previous outbursts are present this year. The catch, however, is that the peak is only expected to last approximately 30 minutes, unlike the more popular annual showers which last a whole night or two.

For reference, the cream of the crop meteor showers, the Persieds and Geminids, typically produce about 60 or so meteors an hour so this could truly be an event for the ages.

Where to look

Look east low on horizon

If you are in the city around light pollution, you likely won’t even know anything is happening. Make sure you find a dark location to take advantage of the show.

When: Night of Nov. 21. Peak expected around 11:30 p.m. Pro tip: Be situated by 11 p.m. in case the show begins early.

Where: Look East. Find Orion’s Belt. The meteors will look to originate just below and to the left and appear to fall out of the constellation Monoceros or the unicorn.

Length: 15-45 minutes

No binoculars or telescope needed, but give your eyes 15-30 minutes to adjust to the night sky. The further away from lights you are, the better the show will be. The moon won’t be a factor.

Central Florida's forecast for Thursday night should provide good sky-gazing conditions.

Skies will be mostly clear across most of Central Florida Thursday night.


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