Skip to main content

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='' 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.
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)
  • 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.


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
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.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:10 PM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
An uncrewed test flight will send Orion 3,600 miles above Earth, farther into space than any craft designed for astronauts has gone since the last Apollo moon mission more than 40 years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
The University of Colorado Boulder has announced a discovery 7,200 miles above Earth of a protective shield similar to the force fields you might see in "Star Trek."
updated 7:58 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The International Space Station's 3-D printer will create objects that can be used by those living in the station.
updated 9:22 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Shrimp crawling around rock chimneys spewing hot water deep in the Caribbean Sea may hold clues to the kinds of life that can thrive in extreme environments on other planets, NASA says.
updated 4:19 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
It's hard to top the tricky, first-ever landing on a comet but we'll try. Here are 11 other space missions to know about.
updated 6:21 PM EST, Fri November 7, 2014
Add another entry to the growing list of crazy footage captured by GoPro cameras.
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Sat November 1, 2014
It is in our DNA to explore the unknown. But pushing boundaries and exploring space is far from easy.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
If there's one thing we've learned about the CNN iReport community, it's that you all love to capture celestial events.
updated 8:25 PM EDT, Sun October 12, 2014
Want to ride an elevator into space? A breakthrough in nanotechnology could mean we will be riding into space on a cable made of diamonds.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Astronauts lie motionless in a row of compartments with medical monitoring cables connected to their bodies, as their space ship cuts through the silent blackness.
updated 3:29 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
This image from the Hubble Space Telescope indicates that a huge ring of dark matter likely exists surrounding the center of CL0024+17 that has no normal matter counterpart.
Scientists are closer to seeing a vast, invisible universe as a spectrometer in Earth orbit picks up possible clues of dark matter.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Soviets sent stray dogs up to conquer space. This is what happened next
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Scientists believe that a hot gas bubble was formed by multiple supernovas.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robonaut is the next generation dexterous robot
Life aboard the International Space Station.
updated 9:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
NASA's New Horizons mission hurtles toward Pluto in historic 3 billion mile expedition.
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Scientists looking for signs of life in the universe -- as well as another planet like our own -- are a lot closer to their goal than people realize.
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
If you think you saw a flying saucer over Hawaii, you might not be crazy -- except what you saw didn't come from outer space, though that may be its ultimate destination.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
When I first poked my head inside Virgin Galactic's newest spaceship, I felt a little like I was getting a front-row seat to space history.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
From a sheep ranch in Western Australia comes the oldest slice of Earth we know.