Watch the sky for rare burst of meteors Thursday

Published: Nov. 20, 2019 at 6:54 PM EST
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A meteor shower peaking this Thursday night that will give us a rare opportunity to view something that could be quite spectacular.

The Alpha Monocerotids meteor shower peaks Thursday, November 21, and this particular meteor shower is known for quick burst of meteors. Radiating from the constellation Monoceros Unicorn, many are giving this the nickname the 'unicorn meteor shower.'

You may have seen the headlines of 400 meteors per hour, but is that really possible?

This particular meteor shower did produce a burst of high burst of meteors in 1985 and in 1995. NASA scientists remind us that this won't exactly translate to meteors filling up the sky. It means that we could just see more meteors than normal.

According to Tony Rice, NASA JPL Ambassador, the ZHR (zenithal hourly rate) is a commonly misunderstood concept. The 400 meteors per hour (or ZHR) that is topping headlines, is an absolute best case scenario, factoring in best sky and weather conditions.

In 1985, the ZHR was 400 meteors, but that actually translated to 27 meteors seen over 4 minutes.

Rice says ZHR numbers are used by astronomers to compare observations from all over the globe — they aren't a good indicator of what you’ll see in Harrisonburg or in any one particular location.

Now, with all of that said, this meteor shower could still put on quite a show and it might be worth it to step out in the cold Thursday night, and you don't have to be out all night to enjoy it. This type of meteor shower has historically produced quick burst of meteor activity in a short window.

Scientists are forecasting the Alpha Monocerotids to have increased activity within 15-40 minutes of 11:50pm (eastern time).


Head outside around 11:30 p.m. Thursday to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. You'll want to find Orion in the eastern sky, and look below it along the horizon.

The good news is that I expect us to start to clear out Thursday evening, so our skies should be fairly clear, making for good viewing conditions.

The moon won't rise until after 1 a.m., also making for great viewing conditions.