Posting this earlier than normal today so that some of you in the US and North America can get a bit of a head’s up…
You might have heard or seen some spectacular news report in the last day or two about a truly spectacular, amazing, mind-blowing, once in a lifetime Meteor STORM (OMG, Batman!! 🤩😲🤯) happening tonight. And it might be, so I’ll tell you what to look for. But I’ll also tell you that it might NOT be happening, and we simply don’t know. It’s a total crap shoot.
The short version – if you want, and if you have clear skies, around 22:00 PDT (01:00 EDT Monday morning), go find a dark spot. Get comfy and look for the bright star Arcturus. It’s going to be near the zenith (straight up) on the West Coast and a bit toward the west the further east you go. If you can find the Big Dipper toward the north, just follow the “handle” off about as far as the dipper is wide and the only real bright star in that area is Arcturus.
If you can’t find Arcturus, don’t sweat it! If the meteors come, they’ll be visible over a huge, wide swath of the sky. They’ll look like they’re coming from the general direction of Arcturus-ish, but if they’re there you’ll see them as long as you’re not lying face down, or asleep, or unconscious in some way.
These meteors will be fainter than other meteor showers, so don’t expect lightning-like flashes across the sky. They’ll be visible, but dimmer, and moving somewhat slowly. Almost like watching a jet passing overhead way up high, fading in, trailing along for a few seconds, then fading out.
The most likely probablility is that there might be 40 to 100 meteors an hour in a dark sky, which is only one a minute or so. If you’re not in a dark sky or if you have some haze, it could be a lot less.
There’s this chance…
These meteors are dust and debris left over from a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which disintigrated in 1995. That cloud of debris comes near our orbit about the time we’re here and in past years it’s been more of a “miss” than a “hit,” so it’s been a pretty minor meteor shower. You wouldn’t know it was happening unless you were looking for it and had a really dark sky.
But some of the astronomers tracking such things think there MIGHT be a possibility that this year we’ll go right through the middle of this cloud tonight. It’s an estimate based on a LOT of information with significant error bars, but there’s a chance that it could pay off.
For me, the worst case scenario is that I might spend an hour or so sitting out in the evening breezes and watching the skies, listening to the mockingbirds, coyotes, police cars, and jets going into Burbank. Not the worst fate. But if it pays off…
Some estimates are that, instead of 40 to 100 meteors an hour, we could have hundreds if not thousands.
So maybe you can go out, maybe you can’t. Maybe you see thousands of meteors – more likely you might, maybe, see a handful and get bitten by mosquitoes.
Put on some bug spray, just in case!