By Sierra Hartman
Hero photo by David Kingham
Tonight between approximately 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., the Earth will be passing through the densest part of a dust cloud ejected by the comet 209P/LINEAR. By most accounts, the predicted meteor storm should be as impressive as the comet’s name is not. The scientists at the excessively titled Institut de mécanique céleste et de calcul des éphémérides predict between 100 and 400 meteors an hour, officially promoting it from a “shower” to a “storm.” The Perseid meteor storm of 1969 inspired John Denver’s famous chorus, “And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I've seen it raining fire in the sky.”
Fortunately, the prime viewing area on Earth happens to be the northwest corner of the U.S. (including Northern California). If it’s clear enough and the predictions hold true, you should be able to see a good show from just about anywhere that’s not under a street lamp.
The event is being called the May Camelopardalids after the constellation from which the meteors will appear to be radiating. According to SF Sidewalk Astronomers, the best place in the city to get a good look at the night sky is Lands End. The bordering trees block a significant amount of light from the city and Sausalito is mostly hidden by the Marin Headlands. Once you find a good viewing spot, use your Boy Scout skills to find the North Star and keep your eyes peeled.
If clouds roll in over the city, all is not lost. For those willing to make a trek for a good view, ClearDarkSky.com is a fantastic resource of sky clarity forecasts. You can check Bay Area viewing spots here. It’s important to note that since this comet is a relative newcomer to the solar system, nobody can really say for sure if it’ll sprinkle us with its magic space dust or not. Some pretty smart people with some big-ass telescopes were involved in making these predictions so the odds are in our favor. And when it comes down to it, fortune favors the bold, right?