A meteor shower happening on Thursday, November 21 could turn into a meteor storm with hundreds of meteors per hour streaking across the sky. The rare meteor burst known as the alpha Monocerotids is set to potentially give a flashier than usual show like one that was seen 24 years ago.
In that last meteor storm in 1995, stargazers saw 400 meteors per hour, or about seven per minute, as ABC 7 tells us. And a couple of astronomers believe the same conditions that existed for that to happen are here again, and there's likely to be a spectacular series of so-called shooting stars.
As EarthSky explains, the alpha Monocerotids are produced by a dust cloud from an unknown long-period comet — i.e. one that has an orbit of over 200 years — and they appear to originate from the faint constellation Monoceros ("the unicorn"). The last time the earth passed through the dust cloud was in 2007, producing a minor meteor shower, but the angle is right, as it was in 1995 and as it appears to be again, we'll see a much heavier shower of meteoroids.
The prediction comes via astronomers Esko Lyytinen of the Finnish Fireball Network and Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center, both of whom have been tracking the alpha Monocerotids for many years.
And this is all happening amid the Leonid meteor shower that goes on through November, but which peaked last weekend.
If you want to watch this rare "unicorn" of a meteor storm, you'll want to seek out some dark spots in the Bay Area with little light pollution — see SFist's guide from the Perseid meteor shower in August for some tips. Strawberry Hill, Billy Goat Hill , and Hawks Hill in San Francisco are decent alternatives if you can't get out of the city.
Update: Nevermind! A NASA scientist now says that this will mostly be a bust for the West Coast, and the constellation you need to look for won't even be above the horizon yet for us when this happens.
As SkyandTelescope recommends, you'll want to get out there by 8:15 p.m. Pacific Time and train your eyes toward the horizon, east southeast — or in the direction of Sirius and the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor. The meteor storm will be "centered" as of 8:50 p.m., and Lyytinen and Jenniskens say the duration will be anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes in total.