CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. Earth will travel through a fresh stream of comet dust early Saturday, possibly creating a gallery of shooting stars for night-time sky-watchers, astronomers said on Friday.
Predictions call for more than 200 meteors per hour hitting the planet's atmosphere during the peak hours of 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. EDT (0600 to 0800 GMT). North America will be in prime position for the celestial show, scientists said.
Weather permitting, the meteors – remnants from the recently discovered Comet 209P/LINEAR – will appear to be coming from the direction of the northern constellation Camelopardalis.
“We’re going right smack in the middle of these (comet) dust trails and the meteors are going to be pretty slow,” University of Arizona astronomer Carl Hergenrother said in a NASA interview.
“It’s going to look almost like slow-moving fireworks, instead of the usual shooting stars,” he added.
Earth will be crossing 2009P/LINEAR’s trail for the first time since the comet’s discovery in 2004.
“Earth has never encountered this stream of debris before, so forecasters cannot be certain of their predictions. The display could be a complete dud, a fantastic ‘meteor storm,’ or anything in between,” astronomer Tony Phillips wrote on Spaceweather.com
Comet 2009P/LINEAR itself is due to make its closest approach to Earth on Thursday. The pass will be about 5 million miles (8 million) km away, too far to be seen by the naked eye.
(Editing by Diane Craft)