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

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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

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.


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.”

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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.”

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CNN’s John Newsome contributed to this report.