Why? You ask, pulling the duvet closer.
Well, NASA says we Might have a brand new never-been-seen-before meteor shower. Earth is scheduled to slice through the debris trail of the boringly named Comet 209P/LINEAR. The thing is, we've never done that before, as an Earth, so this Could be a big thing.
We won't know how big a thing until it IS a thing, but that's part of the excitement. Since we have no way of knowing how much debris 209P laid in its wake back in the 1800's when it zipped past us for the first time ever, we don't know just how much 'stuff' there is up there to turn into meteors and light up our skies. NASA, who like to hedge their bets, are giving a scale, from DUD to FIVE TIMES as big as the beloved Persied meteors that keep people up at night each August. So, while we won't guarantee that you will see something totally special, we will guarantee that you shouldn't miss the chance.
In 2012, Jeremie Vaubaillon of The Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides in France told space.com:
So far,given the observations, we estimate a ZHR (zenithal hourly rate) of 100/hr to 400/hr, which is an excellent outburst! But this shower can become an exceptional one. Indeed, given the current orbit of the comet, all the trails ejected between 1803 and 1924 do fall in the Earth’s path in May 2014! As a consequence, this shower might as well be a storm.
Or not a meteor storm ... depending on cometary dust. Nevertheless, best viewing times are from two to four A.M. on the morning of Sat. May 24 -- that would be tonight (well, tomorrow early morning) so set the alarm clock and come out and join me on the lawn, where I will be praying to the Weather Gods for Clear Skies. (you know me and meteor showers -- never miss 'em if I possibly can crawl out there!!)
Where to look? Well, the names are better here (209P/LINEAR? as a comet name? Really?) We will smack into the debris field in the region of Camelopardalis, which is lending its lovely monikor to the meteor shower, now dubbed the Camelopardalids. Camelopardalis, if you've never spotted this 'giraffe', lurks just below the nose of the Great Bear in the Big Dipper, so if you find the Dipper, go to the North Star, and look a little below. Heck, if it is a good meteor shower, just looking North is going to do the trick.
How did we get a giraffe in the constellations? Good question, to which there is no good answer. It was first recorded in 1624 by the Danish astronomer S. Bartsch. Spelling does matter... because the myth is that this is the Biblical animal upon which Rebecca rode into Canaan. Small problem... Rebecca rode a Camel, not a giraffe. There is the possibility that the name was confused, or some letters added... Or that the shape of the constellation, which is faint and hard to see, itself produced some confusion. The Latin name came from the Romans, who thought the animal a cross between a camel and leopard (the camel marked like a leopard), or a camel wearing a leopard's coat. If you really want to track the word, check this out. Whatever, we've got a giraffe up there... and it might be host to a flood of shooting stars. Or it might just be holding up the sky... nobody is sure.