Circle the date November 21st on your calendar, when a brief but potentially spectacular meteor storm might light up the night.

Rare sighting
A confirmed Alpha Monocerotid meteor photographed on November 8, 2014.
United Kingdom Meteor Observation Network (UKMON)

What's rarer than seeing a unicorn? How about a unicorn spitting meteors at the rate of 400 per hour? You'll have an opportunity to see it for yourself on Thursday night, November 21-22, when the obscure Alpha Monocerotid shower could produce upwards of 400 meteors per hour from a radiant near the star Procyon, a star near the constellation Monoceros, the unicorn. Even more amazing, the outburst is expected to last only a half-hour.

Peter Jenniskens, a senior research scientist with the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center, along with Esko Lyytinen of the Finnish Fireball Network, have been keeping tabs on the shower for years. During outbursts, such as those that occurred in 1925 and 1935, activity reached meteor-storm levels with a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of more than 1,000. Activity rose to near-storm levels again in 1985 and 1995 with ZHRs around 700 and 400. ZHR is an idealized number based on how many meteors a single observer would see if the radiant were overhead in a dark sky during shower maximum.

The source of the Alpha Monocerotids is unknown, but the stream's orbital characteristics point to a long-period comet with a period of about 500 years. This nameless visitor deposited a dense, narrow ribbon of debris in the distant past with a half-width of only around 55,000 kilometers, equal to the distance from the center of Earth to the geostationary satellite belt.

Alpha Monocerotid Radiants
This map shows the sky facing southeast from Philadelphia at 11:50 p.m. EST on Nov. 21. Two Alpha Monocerotid radiants are marked, 1985 and 1995. The 1995 radiant was determined by multi-station photography.

Jenniskens and Lyytninen expect Earth to barrel through the swarm of cometary dust bunnies on the night of November 21-22, centered on 4:50 Universal Time on November 22nd (11:50 p.m. EST on November 21st). Circumstances are nearly identical to the 1995 outburst when the ZHR briefly reached 400. Depending on exactly how close Earth passes to the center of the debris trail we could see storm rates like those in 1925 and 1935 — years when Earth presumably shot directly through the center — or "scraped bottom" with counts closer to 100 meteors an hour.

The shower's brevity means you don't want to be late to the show. Past observations indicate that peak activity will last a mere 15 to 40 minutes! Lyytinen recommends getting out no later than 4:15 UT, Nov. 22nd (11:15 p.m. EST on Nov. 21st). The radiant, located in eastern Monoceros, rises around 10 p.m. local time, so it will be relatively low in the eastern sky for observers in the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada at shower maximum. South Americans have the best seats while skywatchers in northern Africa and Western Europe will catch it in the hour or two before dawn. No worries about the Moon — the 22%-illuminated crescent won't rise until after 2 a.m. local time.

What are your prospects
Frank Reed created this easy to use map so you can see at a glance what your prospects are of seeing the shower where you live.
Frank Reed / ReedNavigation.com

If the radiant is visible from your location during this tiny observing window, you might just see a rare spectacle. Jenniskens, who joined members of the Dutch Meteor Society to monitor the shower in 1995, didn't know exactly what to expect but wasn't disappointed. He describes the experience in his book Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets:

"Suddenly, around 0:10 UT, three meteors radiated from a point on the border of the constellations Canis Major and Monoceros, 15° away from the position (radiant) given in past accounts. And this time it did not stop after just a few. Meteors started pouring out of Canis Minor, falling left and right, up and down. Bright meteors too . . ."

Because the radiant's position varies from outburst to outburst, the map shows both the 1985 and 1995 locations. Suffice to say if you see a spray of sparks emanating from near Procyon, the shower will be under way. Alpha Monocerotids are swift, with a velocity of 64 kilometers per second, similar to the Perseids. Observers across the planet are strongly encouraged to make detailed observations of the shower — the time of the peak and radiant position are essential for predicting its future return.

Get your cameras ready too. Digital photography has progressed by leaps and bounds since the last maximum, offering amateurs a shot at capturing the elusive event. Coordinated photographic efforts by observers living miles apart can provide positional data on individual, incoming meteoroids.

Jenniskens and the other teams participating in the 1995 observation campaign discovered some oddities about the Alpha Monocerotid meteoroids. For one, the comet crumbs penetrated 5 kilometers deeper in the atmosphere than either Perseids or Orionids of similar brightness and speed, which could indicate a denser, less fragile composition. Spectra obtained by astronomers at the Ondrejov Observatory also revealed a lack of sodium, a volatile element lost by heating or by radiation. Since the shower grains have completed only one orbit since their release from the parent comet and do not come close enough to the Sun for solar heating to be significant, Jenniskens suspects they may be pristine samples of the comet's crust.

If bad weather forces you to miss the potential outburst, Esko Lyytinen writes that the shower has staying power. It lies close enough to Earth's orbit to produce future outbursts for the next several centuries. But if you do have clear skies, I'm eager to hear what you see during that precious half-hour. Please share them in the comments area. As always, keep in mind that nature can be on the unpredictable side. We may see more, less or a shift in the time. Good luck!

And this just in! Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi will live stream the outburst starting at 11:15 p.m. EST Nov. 21 (4:15 UT Nov. 22) on his Virtual Telescope Project site. One way or another we're all going to get a chance to see the potential outburst.

Comments


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Stephen Gagnon

November 14, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Any word as to when the moon enters the stream? Is it worth trying to observe impacts on the darkened side?

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Bob King

November 15, 2019 at 9:30 am

Hi Stephen,
Unfortunately I don't have that information. Maybe one of our readers might be able to determine??

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DaigleMoonOrBust

November 15, 2019 at 9:00 am

Will it be visible in California?

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Bob King

November 15, 2019 at 9:29 am

Hi Daigle,
The radiant will be at or below the horizon during the shower peak which will greatly compromise the view. But I still think it's worth a look. Find a dark place with an open view to the east. Some meteors should climb above the horizon including earthgrazers that are typical when shower radiants are low or below the horizon.

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Waverunner

November 15, 2019 at 10:20 am

This is fascinating!

When and in what part of the sky can I view this from Cape Town?

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Bob King

November 15, 2019 at 10:52 am

Daigle,
Like any meteor shower you can look in any part of the sky you like. Alpha Monocerotids will appear anywhere but will all point back to the radiant, located in Monoceros east of the Orion. That said it doesn't hurt to include the radiant in view, so I would suggest facing south or east.

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Bob King

November 15, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Waverunner,
I did a simulation and I'm afraid you're too far south — it's summer for you and the sun comes up early! It will be up at that time.

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Robert Mittendorf

November 15, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Bob, what about northwest Washington state?

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Bob King

November 15, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Robert,
Very similar circumstances to California (see earlier) but the radiant will be a little further below the horizon.

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Kelsbells

November 19, 2019 at 11:04 am

Sorry for asking same question, what about Bella Vista, AR?

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Hi Kelsbells,
Check the new visibility map (courtesy of one of our readers) I just posted in the article.

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Robert Mittendorf

November 15, 2019 at 6:03 pm

Thanks!

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Jetstar

November 15, 2019 at 10:09 pm

Bob, what about western Canada? I am at 51 N 114 W
(Calgary)

It seems the peak would be 9:15PM MST (11:15 EST)
but Orion doesn't come up until after midnight right now.

Maybe with no obstructions I would see a few at the horizon?

I have been clouded out for every shower so far this year,
maybe the Leoniods will OK. Geminids last December were
awesome.

Cheers

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Bob King

November 16, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Hi Jetstar,
The radiant will be right at the horizon for you at peak. Assuming the shower comes off as hoped you will see significantly fewer meteors than other locations further east like Manitoba or the eastern U.S.
Bob

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Jetstar

November 20, 2019 at 8:30 pm

Bob, thanks. Time flies, it seems not that long ago Orion wasn't up until after 12am,
but I went out to try and catch the Leonoids Sunday and there was Orion up already.

If it is clear I think it will still be worth checking out. Saw a few good ones
Sunday. Cheers

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Bob King

November 20, 2019 at 8:59 pm

Excellent, Jetstar. Check it out for sure. Good luck!

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Abby

November 16, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Bob, would I have any luck viewing in coastal Virginia? I will be staying in a hotel on a school field trip but this is such a unique event that I would love to be able to catch it.

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Bob King

November 16, 2019 at 5:53 pm

Abby,
Yes, you are in a great spot. The meteor radiant will be up in the east in back of Orion. The key will be getting away from city lights. Seek dark skies if you can!

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Russ

November 18, 2019 at 3:00 am

Hi Bob,

I'll be as far west as one can get in the lower 48. But I'm still planning on observing. I'll travel to one of my dark sites about an hour's drive from my home in Coos Bay, Oregon. If the peak is somewhat later than predicted, that will be a plus. But if not perhaps I can catch a few low Earth-grazers. At predicted maximum, the radiant is well below my horizon. Nonetheless I'll be setting up a fisheye lens camera taking a continuous series of 35 second exposures for two hours centered on maximum. That method worked well for the 2017 Geminids. Of some 800 exposures over two nights, there were over 50 meteor trails bright enough to assemble into a nice composite image. So I'll see what happens for the Alpha Monocerotids.

Best Regards,
Russ

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Bob King

November 18, 2019 at 10:01 am

Good luck, Russ. Send us a photo — and especially a composite — if you capture them.

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srinath

November 18, 2019 at 7:53 am

Hi, thank you for the post! What about Barbados? I will be on the south west coast of the island.

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Bob King

November 18, 2019 at 10:03 am

Srinath,
You're in a great location for the shower. Just remember to be out there at the correct time and find a location with a dark sky. The radiant will be well-placed, well up in the southeastern sky. Good luck!

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LukeSkyWatcher

November 18, 2019 at 9:56 am

Hi Bob, what are my viewing options in Orlando, FL. I can get away from bright lights but even then I’m not sure if I’ll be in a good spot to view them. What do you think?

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Bob King

November 18, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Hi Luke,
You're in good spot but will need to find dark skies for sure. I've been to Orlando, and it's bright!

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Frank-ReedNavigation.com

November 18, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Can you see it? Here's how to find out if you can see this event. The 1995 radiant is close to the celestial equator. That point at the predicted time of "mid-storm" will be at the zenith above the equator near longitude 15°W. So get out a globe (real or virtual). That's the "sub-radiant point". Draw a circle around that point with a radius of 90°. Since the center is on the equator, this circle will run along a great circle of longitude which includes longitude 105°W and 75°E. If you're in the western hemisphere and your longitude is less than 105, the radiant will be above the horizon at mid-storm. If you're in the eastern hemisphere and you longitude is less than 75, you, too, will have the radiant above the horizon (however most observers in the eastern hemisphere will be in daylight. Note: in this special case, where the radiant is assumed to be directly above the equator, your latitude doesn't matter at all. Anywhere in the right hemisphere of longitude (lon between 75E and 105W, you will see the radiant above the horizon. You could also draw a circle with a diameter of 45° centered on the sub-radiant point. Observers inside that circle will have a better view since the radiant will be higher than 45° altitude. Observers west of 105W may still see a relatively good show if the storm, in fact, occurs.

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 11:13 am

Thanks, Frank for helping out!

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Frank-ReedNavigation.com

November 18, 2019 at 2:47 pm

CAN YOU SEE IT? Check on this little map that I have created:
https://clockwk.com/storm/

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Anthony Barreiro

November 18, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Very helpful. Thanks.

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 11:14 am

Frank,
That's a wonderful map! May I use it with your permission (and credit) in the article? Thanks for letting me know.

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Frank-ReedNavigation.com

November 19, 2019 at 11:26 am

Of course.

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Kittynightfire

November 19, 2019 at 1:23 am

So Bob, please tell me. 8:15 for Klamath Falls Oregon? Don't want to miss this. Look to the east?
Thanks
Kitty

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 11:16 am

Kitty,
The shower peaks at 8:50 p.m. your time. Your view will be compromised because the radiant will be below the southeastern horizon. Check anyways because a certain percentage of the meteors will climb above the horizon.

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Kittynightfire

November 19, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Thanks Bob

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KenW1992

November 19, 2019 at 1:40 am

Bob,

As long as the weather holds, will we be able to see it in the mountains of Colorado? I was planning on driving up to Camp Hale, which will be close to 11,000 feet and wide open viewing.

I witnessed the Leonids Meteor Storm of 1999 up here and it was the most amazing event I have ever seen.

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Susan

November 19, 2019 at 2:22 am

What are the chances from Australia on the eastern side ( AEST) ?

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 11:25 am

Hi Susan,
I'm afraid I've got bad news. The sun will be up in Australia during the shower. Hope for next time!

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Susan

November 20, 2019 at 12:45 am

Thank you for that info! What a shame

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Bob King

November 19, 2019 at 11:24 am

Hi Ken,
Your view will be compromised because the radiant will be right at the horizon at peak, but don't let that stop you. Assuming the shower happens as expected you should still be able to see at least some meteors.

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bellekoh

November 20, 2019 at 12:53 am

Hi, Bob. Thanks for your intensive introduction of alpha monocerotids meteor shower. I am from Singapore, and it will be daytime when alpha monocerotids meteor shower happen. I am hoping there will be live streaming of alpha monocerotids meteor shower broadcasting on the very day. May I seek for your advise that is there any website or channels for interested parties to watch live stream when we are not able to witness the magnificent moment due to geographical reason? Big thanks for your assistance.

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Bob King

November 20, 2019 at 11:52 am

Hi bellekoh,
Yes! I just posted a live stream link in the article a few minutes ago. Here it is again: https://bit.ly/2O2FYVU

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Shell_aileen

November 20, 2019 at 5:40 am

Hoping to catch a glimpse in the early morning from the east coast of Sicily!

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Frank-ReedNavigation.com

November 20, 2019 at 10:31 am

So Bob, if you were a betting man, based on the solid track record of Jenniskens and Lyytinen, and given the usual uncertainties, in such predictions, what do you think the chances are for an actual "meteor storm"? ...10%? ...50%? ...90%?!

Maybe for a minimum storm we could define that as 100 meteors brighter than magnitude 4.0 in any five minute period. Is there a pre-existing definition that's been used? I remember the last Leonid storm (I don't recall the year), and even through some broken high cirrus, I think I counted meteors at about that rate.

Myself, I'm calling it 50:50. Given such a narrow stream, and given uncertainties in historical data, I'm reminding people that there's a 50% chance of nothing at all, but of course a substantial chance that it could be the most amazing thing they've ever seen in the night sky.

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Bob King

November 20, 2019 at 11:50 am

Hi Frank,
I'm with you on lowering expectations but of course I hope it lives up to the prediction. I only say that because nature often eludes exact prediction. I've seen this happen many times with the aurora.

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Synexis

November 21, 2019 at 9:38 am

Hi. Thanks for all the info, especially including all your comment replies which are very helpful. I'm having trouble finding information on how accurate time "center" is thought to be. Do you know what the chances are that it would occur earlier, or later, by say an hour, several hours, or a full day (generally speaking, not necessarily asking for statistical probabilities unless you happen to know whether those exist)?

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Bob King

November 21, 2019 at 10:43 am

Hi Synexis,
Unfortunately, I do not. I only have the information from the IAU telegram and E. Lyytinen's description. No subsequent telegrams regarding the event have been released, leading me to believe the outburst is still expected at the time given in the article.

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Joe Stieber

November 21, 2019 at 2:52 pm

I'm in southern New Jersey, which is apparently a good location for a USA observer. Therefore, I plan on heading to the Pines for a dark sky, even though the weather forecast doesn't look promising at the moment (but not hopelessly bad). I'm not optimistic there will actually be a meteor storm (the hoped-for Camelopardalid outburst a few years back was a bust) or that the weather will cooperate. HOWEVER, if things do work out, I won't see anything sitting at home, so it's worth a drive just in case!

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Bob King

November 21, 2019 at 3:40 pm

I'm with you, Joe. Clouds are forecast exactly at the peak for my location with clearing after 11 p.m. local time. I plan to consult weather sites and try to find a clear sky. I observed the Camelopardalids back then and saw a brief, interesting shower but not a storm. We'll soon find out about this one! Good luck!

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Donald Bruns

November 22, 2019 at 12:44 am

Zero meteors seen in San Diego, observing from 8:40 pm to 9:15 pm PST. Sky limiting magnitude about 3.5 with 99% humidity, looking toward western horizon between Capella, Pleiades, and Rigel. Was hoping for a repeat of the '66 Leonids, but no luck tonight.

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Tom-Reiland

November 22, 2019 at 12:56 am

It's totally cloudy here in Western Pa. I just got off the phone with a friend and he reports that the meteor shower didn't pan out and they saw no meteors in Florida where he lives. At least we didn't miss anything here because of the lousy weather.

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Joe Stieber

November 22, 2019 at 2:35 am

I was out to the relatively dark southern New Jersey Pinelands from 10:45 pm EST on Nov 21 until 12:40 am on Nov 22 (3:45 until 5:40 UT on Nov 22). I didn’t see a single meteor during that time. However, broken clouds were passing over during that period such that typically, less than half the sky was clear at any given time. Transparency was pretty good and stars were abundant in the space between clouds.

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Larry-Bowers

November 22, 2019 at 8:07 am

In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (Western Virginia) we had about 50% thin cloud cover, but the clouds moved fairly fast so I could see the predicted radian point of the sky most of the time from 11:30 pm until 12;15 am. I saw one or two faint ones, but nothing more than you might see on an average night. Very disappointing.

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Wayne-Wooten

November 22, 2019 at 12:59 pm

We had clear skies in Pensacola Florida and Richard Walker and I observed from 10:30 - 11:15 PM CST, with Procyon about 20 degrees high. T = 4, but no meteors at all, alas. Must have missed the stream?

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misha17

November 22, 2019 at 1:15 pm

I found this all-night video via Newsweek. The article says the burst of faint meteors begin at about 4hr 12min into the video, the link below starts the video at 4hr 1min:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15010&v=eEOuMgCdzXM

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