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Heads-up! Stargazers on alert for rare, possibly epic meteor shower

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Stargazers in the UK can enjoy the silhouette of the Llanthony Priory against the starry sky. The ruins have partly been <a href='http://www.llanthonyprioryhotel.co.uk/' target='_blank'>converted into a pub</a>. After a night of hard sky observation, you can step into the former Augustinian priory for an authentic Welsh ale. Stargazers in the UK can enjoy the silhouette of the Llanthony Priory against the starry sky. The ruins have partly been converted into a pub. After a night of hard sky observation, you can step into the former Augustinian priory for an authentic Welsh ale.
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Brecon Beacons National Park (UK)
Natural Bridges National Monument (U.S.)
Westhavelland Dark Sky Reserve (Germany)
Mont-Mégantic Dark Sky Reserve (Canada)
Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve (New Zealand)
Exmoor National Park (UK)
Pic du Midi Dark Sky Reserve (France)
NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia)
Kerry Dark Sky Reserve (Ireland)
Northumberland Dark Sky Park (UK)
Goldendale Observatory State Park (Washington)
Death Valley National Park (California)
Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)
Hortobágy National Park (Hungary)
Galloway Forest Park (UK)
Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Cherry Springs State Park (Pennsylvania)
Observatory Park, Geauga Park District (Ohio)
Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park (Ohio)
Blue Ridge Observatory (North Carolina)
Zselic Starry Sky Park (Hungary)
Headlands Dark Sky Park (Michigan)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • May Camelopardalids could light up skies over North America early Saturday
  • The meteor shower is from the Earth passing through the debris of a comet
  • Forecasters say it will produce as few as 100 or as many as 1,000 meteors an hour
  • Scores of people on Twitter express excitement about the cosmic event

Planning to catch the meteor shower this weekend? Share your best shots with CNN iReport, and you could be featured on CNN.

(CNN) -- When the sky falls, you'd think people would run for cover.

Not tonight.

If the clouds cooperate, skies all over North America will light up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. ET Saturday in a rare sight that's excited everyone from space geeks to insomniacs to regular folks.

"I AM SO PUMPED FOR THE METEOR SHOWER TONIGHT OMG," tweeted one woman.

Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky
Time-lapse of the Perseid meteor shower
Renata Arpasova spent the early morning hours Sunday photographing the Orionid meteor shower from Wiltshire, England. Renata Arpasova spent the early morning hours Sunday photographing the Orionid meteor shower from Wiltshire, England.
Capturing the Orionids
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Capturing the Orionid meteor shower Capturing the Orionid meteor shower

Actually, these meteors aren't necessarily falling on the Earth. Rather, it's the Earth that's moving through the debris of Comet 209/P Linear.

Whatever the reason, experts say this one-night-only phenomenon known as the May Camelopardalids could produce a huge light show -- or be a dud. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory noted that some forecasters are predicting about 100 meteors per hour, while others have much higher expectations, predicting more than 1,000 meteors per hour.

It's not like there's a lot of history to say which way things will go.

"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s," said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The parent comet doesn't appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show or there could be little activity."

Awe-inspiring photos: 'Blood moon' mesmerizes sky gazers

Still, the mere prospect of a big light show is enough to get people up in the middle of the night -- if they go to sleep at all -- to take it all in. CNN Meteorologist Sean Morris noted that this is the first time in a generation that Earthlings can see a new meteor shower.

This cosmic event has been years in the making: NASA announced in 2012 that Earth would encounter debris from this comet -- which also rotates around the sun -- crossing our orbit this weekend.

The meteors should radiate from a point in Camelopardalis, a faint constellation near the North Star that's also known as "the giraffe," Cooke said.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory recommends that those who want to see the show find a spot away from city lights, give themselves time to adjust to looking at the night sky and use their own eyes (no binoculars necessary) to enjoy the view.

The best place to watch the shower will be east of the Mississippi River or in California. The worst may be parts of the Plains and Northeast, where rain and cloud cover is possible. If you're in Europe, Africa, Asia or South America, don't even bother to look.

Several people tweeted about what they'll be wishing on, while others wished for someone with whom they could enjoy the occasion.

"Meteor shower tonight!!!!!" read one post. "Everyone turn off lights, go outside, put down blankets, cuddle up and enjoy!!!!

But not everyone is comfortable with the spectacle, it seems.

"Everyone wants me to watch the meteor shower," tweeted one woman, "but I think he deserves his privacy."

Astronaut tells kid, 'You'd love it up here'

CNN's John Newsome contributed to this report.

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