Southern Stargazing: Unicorn meteor storm predicted for Thursday

Southern Stargazing: Unicorn meteor storm predicted for Thursday
{Graphic courtesy of the American Meteor Society}

For centuries, folks have looked up fascinated with the stars, moon, planets, and other celestial object. Our night’s sky exists as a brilliant, ever-changing painting that leaves most feeling awed and strangely at peace.

Thursday night, those of us in southern, middle Tennessee will get a rare chance to view a “unicorn” meteor storm. That’s right … we said meteor storm, not shower. Predicted by two American Meteor Society scientists, Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen, the meteor storm’s named Alpha Monocertoid. Its radiant point is in the Monoceros, the Unicorn constellation, near Orion the Hunter.

Similar meteor storms have happened only four other times this century, in 1925, 1935, 1985, and 1995. Meteor showers and storms come from the dust trail of an unknown comet. They only intersect with the Earth’s orbit sometimes.

The celestial event should begin around 10:50 p.m. on Thursday night and last around 30 minutes with peak meteors outburst lasting around 15 minutes. It could be a rare display of up to 400 meteors every seven minutes, which will be moving at about 140,927 miles per hour.

“It’s usually not worth staying up for,” says local astronomy expert Billy Hix. “But this year could be something special.”

To view properly, stargazers will need a dark location away from city lights with a clear view of the eastern sky. The moon’s currently waning, so it’s brightness won’t interfere. Meteors will be visible to the naked eye. You won’t need binoculars or a telescope. Scientists suggest getting into place at least an hour early, to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark.

Hix says cosmic events are equal opportunity fun because anyone can look up … and it’s free.

“Many of these events are rare or once-in-a-lifetime,” he says. “You often know that you are seeing something that you’ll never see again.”

For more information, visit the American Meteor Society’s website by clicking here. •

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