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Uncertainty Swirls Saturday's Predicted Meteor Shower

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.

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