Heads-up! Stargazers on alert for rare, possibly epic meteor shower
Stargazers in the UK can enjoy the silhouette of the Llanthony Priory against the starry sky. The ruins have partly been converted into a pub. After a night of hard sky observation, you can step into the former Augustinian priory for an authentic Welsh ale.
(CNN) -- When the sky falls, you'd think people would run for cover.
If the clouds cooperate, skies all over North America will light up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. ET Saturday in a rare sight that's excited everyone from space geeks to insomniacs to regular folks.
"I AM SO PUMPED FOR THE METEOR SHOWER TONIGHT OMG," tweeted one woman.
Actually, these meteors aren't necessarily falling on the Earth. Rather, it's the Earth that's moving through the debris of Comet 209/P Linear.
Whatever the reason, experts say this one-night-only phenomenon known as the May Camelopardalids could produce a huge light show -- or be a dud. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory noted that some forecasters are predicting about 100 meteors per hour, while others have much higher expectations, predicting more than 1,000 meteors per hour.
It's not like there's a lot of history to say which way things will go.
"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s," said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The parent comet doesn't appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show or there could be little activity."
Still, the mere prospect of a big light show is enough to get people up in the middle of the night -- if they go to sleep at all -- to take it all in. CNN Meteorologist Sean Morris noted that this is the first time in a generation that Earthlings can see a new meteor shower.
This cosmic event has been years in the making: NASA announced in 2012 that Earth would encounter debris from this comet -- which also rotates around the sun -- crossing our orbit this weekend.
The meteors should radiate from a point in Camelopardalis, a faint constellation near the North Star that's also known as "the giraffe," Cooke said.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory recommends that those who want to see the show find a spot away from city lights, give themselves time to adjust to looking at the night sky and use their own eyes (no binoculars necessary) to enjoy the view.
The best place to watch the shower will be east of the Mississippi River or in California. The worst may be parts of the Plains and Northeast, where rain and cloud cover is possible. If you're in Europe, Africa, Asia or South America, don't even bother to look.
Several people tweeted about what they'll be wishing on, while others wished for someone with whom they could enjoy the occasion.
"Meteor shower tonight!!!!!" read one post. "Everyone turn off lights, go outside, put down blankets, cuddle up and enjoy!!!!
But not everyone is comfortable with the spectacle, it seems.
"Everyone wants me to watch the meteor shower," tweeted one woman, "but I think he deserves his privacy."
Looking south from Lake Tekapo, on the South Island in New Zealand, you can see the Milky Way stretching over the Church of the Good Shepherd. The Southern Cross and the Coal Sack Nebula are visible near the top of the image.
In this picture the swirl of the Milky Way can clearly be seen from Panther Junction, the center of Big Bend National Park in Texas. Among the stars, you can also see the constellations Gemini, Taurus and Orion. It's the only dark sky park in the Northern Hemisphere where you can see parts of the Southern Cross.
Visibility at Cherry Springs can be so good that the Milky Way is sometimes bright enough to cast shadows on the ground.
The Northern Cross is part of the constellation of Cygnus. This image was captured in Observatory Park, Geauga Park District in Ohio, but the constellation can be clearly seen at Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park in New Mexico during the summer too.
A long exposure or multiple stacked images can capture the motions of stars as the Earth rotates. As you focus toward the north or south poles, stars create a circular trail. On the clearest nights, 3,000 stars are visible over this park in Devon and Somerset, UK.
Star formations or "stellar nurseries" can be seen without the use of equipment in this park in Scotland, but details of the nebulae are better observed through one of the two telescopes at the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, bookable from $8 per person.
Looking toward Oregon's Mount Hood during autumn, you can see Saturn (smaller than the dot of this "i" at the top left) and Venus (right of the moon) with the naked eye. If you want a better view of the tiny speck that is Saturn, you can use the park's telescope, one of the largest available for public use in the United States.
Pristine night skies were a perk and a necessity for Hortobágy's traditional shepherds in Hungary. Early 20th-century shepherds relied heavily on knowledge of stars and constellations for livelihood and cultural reasons.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this new dark sky park is one of few places on the east coast to offer spectacular views of the Milky Way.
The annual Perseids Event at Mont-Mégantic is dedicated to the meteor shower that can be seen every August. Around 50-100 "fireballs" can be seen per hour across the sky in Quebec, Canada.
The natural Owachomo Bridge in Utah is silhouetted against the Milky Way and thousands of stars. This photo was taken on a particularly clear night after a storm, and features potholes full of water reflecting the scene, says photographer Jacob Frank.
It's impossible to miss the Milky Way stretching across the sky from this French reserve. "Starry Night" programs are available on special astronomical occasions in the reserve, where an astronomer acts as your guide to the cosmos. You can use viewing equipment on the terraces.
Westhavelland International Dark Sky Reserve is less than a two-hour drive from Berlin. The summer night sky can be so dark and clear that zodiacal light (sunlight scattered by dust in space) and gegenschein (a faint brightening of zodiacal light at midnight) can be visible.