Time to bust out your favorite music mix and head to the nearest trailhead. A brief and potentially spectacular meteor storm may see 400 shooting stars light up the night sky on Thursday, November 21, 2019. It’s a monumental viewing event that scientists predict won’t happen again until 2043.
Here’s who, what, when, where, why, and how to see the Alpha Monocerotid meteor outburst tonight.
Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower
Astronomer do not know its origin, though it’s suspected to be a long-period comet that orbits the Sun around once every 500 years. Astronomers know that Earth has encountered this stream before, and each time it’s produced a powerful meteor shower event:
- 1925: 1,000 shooting stars per hour (“meteor storm”)
- 1935: 1,000 shooting stars per hour (“meteor storm”)
- 1985: 700 shooting stars per hour (“meteor outburst”)
- 1995: 400 shooting stars per hour (“meteor outburst”)
- 2019: Between 100 (“meteor outburst”) and 1,000 (“meteor storm”) shooting stars per hour are predicted
It’s that “meteor outburst” of 1995 that November 21’s outburst looks set to most closely resemble.
Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower could produce a rare “meteor outburst” with a duration of as little as 15 minutes and as long as 40 minutes. Observers in Europe, Africa, South America and in the eastern part of the US will likely get the best view if predictions prove correct.
Here’s the viewing windows according to major cities along the best viewing areas:
- Mexico City, Mexico: 10:15 p.m. CST on Thursday, November 21
- New York City, NY & Washington DC: 11:15 p.m. EST on Thursday, November 21
- Santiago, Chile: 1:15 a.m. CLST on Friday, November 22
- São Paulo, Brazil: 1:15 a.m. BRT on Friday, November 22
- Buenos Aires, Argentina: 1:15 a.m. ART on Friday, November 22
- Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain: 4:15 a.m. WET on Friday, November 22
- Cardiff, Edinburgh & London: 4:15 a.m. GMT on Friday, November 22
- Madrid, Paris & Brussels: 5:15 a.m. CET on Friday, November 22
- Marrakech: 5:15 a.m. CET on Friday, November 22
Locations west of Denver will be difficult to view as the shower occurs low on their horizon.
Like all meteor showers, this one gets its name from its apparent radiant point in the constellation of Monoceros, the Unicorn, which is close to the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor. More generally, the more famous constellations of Orion and Gemini is where to face. Although the shooting stars won’t really come from there—they will just appear to do so—it’s best to look in that general direction.
Meteor showers are majestic and rare sight to behold. Not only does one’s placement on the globe matter, but the weather conditions also have to be just right. If you miss the Alpha Monocerotids “meteor outburst,” researchers predict that the next one, which is set to be a full-blown meteor storm, will be in 2043.
All meteor showers are caused by comets, which leave dust trails that Earth smashes into on its orbit around the Sun. There exists a narrow dust trails that Earth almost never encounters, but when it does, meteor outbursts can occur.