A rare celestial treat awaits stargazers late Thursday evening as a full-fledged "unicorn" meteor storm could appear in the night sky, astronomers said.
There is no guarantee that such an event will unfold, but Lyytinen and Jenniskens said there is a "good chance" to see the first Alpha Monocerotids meteor storm since 1995, when there were about 400 meteors per hour, AccuWeather reported.
The meteor shower is known as the Alpha Monocerotids because the meteors radiate from Monoceros (Greek for "unicorn"), a faint constellation to the left of Orion, according to AccuWeather.
"Unlike most meteor outbursts, which last for several hours, strong activity from the Alpha Monocerotids is over within an hour and easily missed," the American Meteor Society said.
The outburst should reach its peak around 11:50 p.m. EST Thursday, according to the meteor society.
The Alpha Monocerotids, like all meteor showers, occur when the Earth passes through a field of debris left by an asteroid or comet. What's odd about this shower is that the comet is unknown.
If the comet's dust trail is small and dense, the resulting meteor shower "may result in hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of meteors burning up in just minutes," the National Weather Service said.
"If this scenario happens, that meteor shower is referred to as a meteor storm," the weather service said.
The best viewing conditions for the meteor shower are probably across the western and north-central USA, where there are only patchy clouds in the forecast.
The moon will not rise until the early morning hours, meaning that the shower will not be bothered by what can be the biggest source of natural light pollution, AccuWeather said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meteor shower Thursday night will be a 'unicorn' storm from Monoceros