(Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)
Attention meteor fans: Canadian astronomers are predicting something big this weekend. Sometime in the very late evening of May 23 or very early hours of May 24, we're likely to experience one of the biggest, best meteor showers of the year, if not the last several years.
Apparently this has to do with fact that the Earth will be traversing a cloud of space dust about a million kilometres thick. The dust comes from Comet 209P/LINEAR, a wayward comet that was pushed off-course in 2012, sending it closer to the Earth than it would have otherwise gone. The Earth is no longer in danger of colliding with 209P/LINEAR (that was a very real possibility for a while), but the comet's debris will still put on a great show.
How does it work? Basically, when dust and rock from the comet enters Earth's atmosphere, it burns up, creating meteors — and those meteors, which can be seen with the naked eye as they shower down towards the surface (and, almost always, eventually disintegrate), can be incredibly beautiful.
“I’m hopeful this is going to be one for the top ten list,” Paul Wiegert, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario, told the Globe and Mail.
Wiegert and other astronomers estimate that this weekend's meteor shower could contain between 100 and 400 meteors per hour. Though that's not a promise — most experts agree that meteor showers are hard to predict, especially in cases like this one where no one has seen it before.
If you can't find a good place to watch the shower — cities aren't ideal, as the light gets in the way of the show — you can always check it out online, thanks to The Virtual Telescope Project, which records and broadcasts events like this live from its telescopes in Italy. NASA will also be live-streaming the event, wtih an accompanying live chat with some of its astronomers. Of course, getting outside and seeing it yourself is probably the best way to go.