FARGO — A rare celestial event is expected Thursday night, Nov. 21, and the Fargo-Moorhead area may be one of the best spots in the country to see it.
The alpha Monocertoid meteor shower arrives every year about this time, appearing to radiate from the Monoceros constellation, which is Greek for unicorn.
The intensity of the showers are rarely impressive, and their duration (about an hour) is brief compared with other meteor showers, according to Jay Bjerke, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Astronomy Club.
However, four unusual outbursts made astronomers sit up and take notice over the years, with those events occurring in 1925, 1935, 1985 and 1995.
Scientists predict another notable display this year, according to the American Meteor Society, which states on its website that based on the last major unicorn meteor shower in 1995, sky watchers could see about seven meteors per minute at the height of Thursday's event.
"These meteors are never spaced evenly, but appear in bunches, so 2-3 meteors may be seen seconds apart and then an entire minute could go by without any activity," the AMS website said, adding: "This is still far and away extraordinary activity and should be monitored."
The unicorn is a faint constellation visible below and to the left of Orion and to the right of the constellation Cancer.
On Thursday night, those looking to catch a glimpse of the meteor shower are advised to look to the southeast, just above the horizon. Bjerke advised heading out of town to view the meteor shower, as the night sky in rural areas is much darker, making faint objects in the sky easier to see.
The source of the meteors isn't known for sure, but one theory holds they are part of the dust trail left by a comet.
The American Meteor Society said the meteor shower is expected to start about 10:50 p.m., but it recommends that people pull up a chair and start watching for meteors at least an hour earlier to have the best chance of seeing something.
"Rain and snow Wednesday and Wednesday night is expected to give way to breezy, colder weather Thursday," said John Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY-TV in Fargo.
Thursday night is expected to be cold, but clear. "Not below zero cold, but cold," Wheeler said.