Mars, though fading rapidly, is still brilliant. It’s that bright orange star out all night. Saturn arrives at its closest to Earth for the entire year this coming week, far to the lower left of Mars. And Jupiter, though its days of visibility are now numbered, keeps blazing in the west at nightfall as the night’s very brightest star.
This Saturday night, May 10, we’ll do a special skywatching session right after sunset on the Walkway over the Hudson to observe this planet extravaganza, stretched across the heavens like a string of pearls. We’ll have telescopes set up, too. The cloud date is Sunday, the 11th.
And now, suddenly, on top of all that, comes the real possibility of a brand-new meteor shower. It could be the best of our lives.
Perhaps you saw the amazing Leonid shower in the wee predawn hours of November 18, 2001, just two months after the 9/11 tragedy. We had perfectly clear skies, and six brilliant green shooting stars materialized each minute, nearly all of which left behind long lingering trails like Cheshire Cat smiles. That was our region’s best meteor display of the past century.
But now, my favorite meteor expert, Peter Jenniskens, predicts a rich new meteor shower produced by a previous close approach of a rather faint comet named Linear. He thinks that we’ll get a storm, when meteors literally fill the sky. Other meteor experts are more conservative, but still think that we should see three or four shooting stars each minute, and they could be brilliant. All of this will unfold during a two- or three-hour period.
Of all places in the world, the US and southern Canada alone will be well-positioned to see this brief and potentially spectacular shower. It should occur starting around 2 a.m. and last almost until dawn. It’s even on a Friday night – or rather, early Saturday morning. And the Moon will be a harmless crescent, so the sky won’t be spoiled by bright moonlight.
We’ll talk about it again next week. But for now, mark your calendar to set the alarm the night of May 23/24, the early hours of Saturday morning, for 1:45 a.m. This has the potential to be the most exciting celestial event in many years.