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Rare "unicorn" meteor outburst will light up the night sky tonight. Here's how to watch

Skywatchers in Eastern U.S. can catch a meteor shower that will briefly turn into an outburst, which last occurred more than two decades ago. The Alpha Monocerotids typically produce few meteors each year, but it is expected to have an outburst on the night of Thursday, November 21 and early morning hours of Friday, November 22, depending on your location, according to two meteor scientists. The radiant point of the meteors comes from the constellation Monoceros, which is Greek for "unicorn."

Astronomers Esko Lyytinen and Peter Jenniskens published a paper earlier this month on the unusual meteor event, writing that the conditions are nearly identical to the outburst 24 years ago, which had about 400 meteors per hour. Meteor outbursts typically last for a short period of time and produce several meteors per minute. According to Lyytinen and Jenniskens, the coming outburst is caused by dust released by a long period comet, but the comet itself is still unknown.

The best views in the U.S. will be in the eastern part of the country. The closer you are to the East Coast, the higher the rate of meteors will be. Outside of the U.S., the best views will be in South America, western Europe and northwestern Africa.

Such outbursts have been rare. In addition to 1995, they also occurred in 1925, 1935 and 1985. The next one is expected to be in 2043, the scientists say.

How to watch the Alpha Monocerotids

Based on Lyytinen and Jenniskens' observations, the Alpha Monocerotids meteor shower will start at 11:15 p.m. ET and the outburst is expected to be around 11:50 p.m. ET (or 4:50 UT). The outburst will only last for about 15 minutes and the entire meteor shower will be around 40 minutes. The moon is in the waning crescent phase and and won't rise till later in the night, so it shouldn't interfere in tonight's viewing experience.

For best viewing, the experts at Sky and Telescope recommend looking relatively low in the eastern sky for the meteor shower. If you don't want to go outside to see the rare event, you can watch it online through the Virtual Telescope's YouTube channel. 

Alpha Monocerotids 2019 possible outburst: LIVE, online observation - 22 Nov. 2019 by Gian Masi on YouTube
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