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Celestial treat: Don't miss meteor shower tonight.

This file photo taken by a member of the Taif Arts Monitor in mid-December 2012 and released by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows a meteor streaking across the night sky above the mountains of western Saudi Arabia. A similar meteor shower is expected to light up Saudi skies late Friday night, going into the wee hours of Saturday.

RIYADH: Ghazanfar Ali Khan

An unprecedented meteor shower will light up Saudi skies late Friday night, going into the wee hours of Saturday.

The meteor shower will be visible across the Gulf states.

"As many as 200 celestial bodies may be rushing to the earth's surface per hour, making it an utterly unique sight for people across the Gulf states and in many other regions of the globe," said Zaki Al-Mostafa, a senior researcher at the National Astronomy Center at the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST), on Thursday.

The best time to witness this rare astronomical event, dubbed "May Camelopardalids," will be anywhere between 11 p.m. on Friday and 4 a.m. on Saturday, he said.

"The shower storm could be unpredictable, since it will occur for the first time," said the astronomer.

"Many people, including students and researchers, will be camping out to watch the shower and to take note of this rare event," he said.

"To see the meteors, cast your gaze over a large portion of the sky," Al-Mostafa said.

Some meteors will span short paths, while others will have much longer courses.

He explained that the annual "Lyrid" meteor shower is active every year from about April 16 to April 25.

"This year, the shower may turn to a storm due to the high number of meteors expected to enter into the earth's atmosphere," he said.

These meteors tend to be bright and easily seen by the naked eye, he said.

He pointed out that the new shower is the result of dust shed from the faint periodic comet, 209P/LINEAR.

The comet regularly crosses earth's orbit as it rounds the sun every five years, said Al-Mostafa.

Many researchers looking at the data, however, are a bit skeptical on how well the shower will perform.

"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s," said NASA's William Cooke.

"As a result of this uncertainty, this could be a great meteor shower or a complete dud," Cooke said in a report.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:May 23, 2014
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