Uncertainty Swirls Saturday's Predicted Meteor Shower

Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope magazine says that Earth on Saturday may pass through relatively dense streams of debris, resulting in a vivid display of shooting stars — or it won't.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you're willing to gamble tonight, stay up and look up at the sky. You might see a spectacular display of shooting stars.

ALAN MACROBERT: And possibly nothing at all.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That's Alan MacRobert, an editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. He's among those hoping to see a meteor shower in the wee hours Saturday. The thought is that the planet is about to pass through the debris stream of a recently discovered comet called 209Linear. Here's how MacRobert explains it.

MACROBERT: We are going through the trail of debris it should have left if, a few centuries ago, it was shedding stuff at the rate that astronomers think it may well have been doing, but we're not going to know until we get there.

CORNISH: Whether this will be a big deal or a big dud doesn't matter to Bill Cook(ph). He's excited. Cooke is with NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama.

BILL COOKE: To have a meteor shower suddenly appear with rates of tens or hundreds per hour, that's a very rare thing, and it's a unique opportunity both from just going out and looking at it and scientifically because simply by counting meteors, we can tell how active this comet was long before we were born.

SIEGEL: And to Alan MacRobert of Sky & Telescope magazine, there's no downside, either. He says his alarm is already set so he wakes up for the potential show at 3 a.m.

MACROBERT: This could be the display of a lifetime, or it could be, well, just a look at the stars.

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