AFP

WASHINGTON

A mysterious meteor shower late Friday and early Saturday is captivating countless astronomers and amateur skywatchers with the promise of a falling-star show unlike any ever before seen.

The Camelopardalids meteor shower could start for North American viewers at early as 10:30 pm Friday (0230 GMT Saturday), astronomers say. This ‘potentially spectacular show,’ according to the US Naval Observatory, should be visible in the United States and Canada, anywhere with a cloudless night sky.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is likely to miss out. The peak is expected between 3:00 and 4:00 am (0700-0800 GMT), according to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. ‘However, I would recommend folks get out a bit earlier, just to be safe,’ Cooke told AFP.

And what will it look like? Astronomers aren’t exactly sure. They have never seen this one before. ‘Meteor showers are like the weather. They are a little bit hard to predict,’ said Paul Wiegert, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario.  This meteor shower originates from the trail of dust behind a small, dim comet known as 209P/Linear. The debris gets tugged into Earth’s orbit this year by the force of gravity from Jupiter. Meteor showers consist of space rocks that burn up upon hitting the top of Earth’s atmosphere, producing a bright flash of light that gives the appearance of a falling star.

‘The predictions at this point are that we will see a few hundred meteors per hour,’ Wiegert told AFP. ‘That means that you would see a few meteors per minute. So it is not a special-effects extravaganza, here, but it is in line with many of the strong annual meteor showers.’ The annual Perseids meteor show that lasts for several days in August is made up of shooting stars that barrel by at a pace of 150,000 miles (241,000 kilometers) per hour.