SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- NASA announced the discovery of what could become a first ever meteor shower, the May Camelopardalids, delighting skywatchers with 200 meteors per hour for Memorial Day Weekend 2014, and potentially rivaling the Perseid meteor shower in August.
The expected meteor shower comes from the dust from comet 209P/LINEAR, but NASA is quick to admit it could also be a big disappointment. No one has ever seen it, so they just don't know what it will do when Earth passes through.
NASA LIVE METEOR SHOWER COVERAGE FRIDAY NIGHT: Never-before-seen Meteor Shower On May 23rd, 2014
Bill Cooke from NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said, "We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s. The parent comet doesn't appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show, or there could be little activity."
WHEN IS THE METEOR SHOWER?
Peak viewing could be from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Saturday, with the best potential from 11 p.m.-1 a.m.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO SPOT THE SHOWER?
Sky and Telescope Magazine editor's tips on sky-watching tonight
Comet 209P/LINEAR was discovered ten years ago by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project that scans the skies for nearby objects.
The comet is dim, and only dips into Earth's orbit every five years.
NASA Ames Research Center in the Bay Area played a role in predicting this week's encounter.
Meteor experts Esko Lyytinen of Finland and Peter Jenniskens at Ames announced two years ago that Earth would go through the comet's debris. The dust had been ejected by the comet clear back in the 1800s, but wouldn't cross the orbit until this week.
Watch for the giraffe, they say.
"We expect these meteors to radiate from a point in Camelopardalis, also known as 'the giraffe,' a faint constellation near the North Star," Cooke said.
As an astronomer, the event Friday is more than a little exciting.
"It's a great opportunity to see a new meteor shower -- an opportunity I want to see with my own eyes."
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