Search for intelligent aliens near bizarre dimming star has begun

File photo (Reuters).

File photo (Reuters).

The search for signs of life in a mysterious star system hypothesized to potentially harbor an “alien megastructure” is now underway.

Astronomers have begun using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system of radio dishes about 300 miles northeast of San Francisco, to hunt for signals coming from the vicinity of KIC 8462852, a star that lies 1,500 light-years from Earth.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope found that KIC 8462852 dimmed oddly and dramatically several times over the past few years. The dimming events were far too substantial to be caused by a planet crossing the star’s face, researchers say, and other possible explanations, such as an enormous dust cloud, don’t add up, either. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Alien Life]

The leading hypothesis at the moment involves a swarm of comets that may have been sent careening toward KIC 8462852, possibly after a gravitational jostle by a passing star. But it’s also possible, astronomers say, that the signal Kepler saw was caused by huge structures built by an alien civilization — say, a giant assortment of orbiting solar panels.

That latter possibility, remote though it may be, has put KIC 8462852 in the crosshairs of scientists who hunt for signals that may have been generated by intelligent aliens.

“We are looking at it with the Allen Telescope Array,” said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.

“No problem with that; I think we ought to, for sure,” Shostak told Space.com. But, he added, people “should perhaps moderate their enthusiasm with the lessons of history.”

Shostak cited the example of pulsars, fast-spinning, superdense stellar corpses that emit beams of high-energy radiation. These beams are picked up by instruments on and around Earth as regular pulses, because they can only be detected when they’re fired straight at the planet (an event that occurs at predictable intervals because of pulsars’ rotation).

Astronomers know all this now. But in the 1960s, when the first pulsar signals were discovered, some scientists interpreted them as possible alien transmissions.

“So history suggests we’re going to find an explanation for this that doesn’t involve Klingons, if you will,” Shostak said of the KIC 8462852 mystery.

But until such an explanation is found, the intelligent-aliens hypothesis will still be on the table, even if the ATA and other instruments like it come up empty. The lack of a detectable signal, after all, does not establish that KIC 8462852 is a lifeless system.

The star may support lifeforms that do not emit signals we can pick up, for example. Or it may once have hosted a civilization that has since gone extinct, leaving the strange megastructure as a sort of monument.

Kepler’s main planet-hunting work suggests that the Milky Way galaxy teems with billions of rocky, potentially habitable planets. So KIC 8462852 is far from the only lead that Shostak and his colleagues will be chasing down in the coming years.

“It almost doesn’t matter where you point your telescope, because there are planets everywhere,” Shostak said. “If there’s somebody out there, there are going to be so many of them out there that I do think there’s a chance.”

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Astronomers say real-life ‘death star’ destroying faraway rocky object

A white dwarf star in the Constellation Virgo turns out to be a “death star” worthy of “Star Wars.”

Astronomers announced Wednesday that they have discovered a rocky object coming apart in a death spiral around this distant star. They used NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler spacecraft to make the discovery, then followed up with ground observations.

“This is something no human has seen before,” said Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the lead author.

“We’re watching a solar system get destroyed,” he said in a statement.

The data show the object in an orbit 520,000 miles from the white dwarf. That’s the approximate distance from the Earth to the moon, and back. Vanderburg and his team also found several additional chunks of orbiting material.

Scientists believe the original object may have been a planet whose orbit became unstable, and was kicked inward. The pieces already are being vaporized by the white dwarf, located about 570 light-years from Earth, and will eventually be ripped apart.

The fictional Death Star of “Star Wars” fame was the Empire’s monstrously big space arsenal capable of destroying an entire planet.

The findings are being published this week in the journal Nature.

 

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Fright night flyby: Skyscraper-sized asteroid will pass Earth on Halloween

 

Diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A skyscraper-sized asteroid will fly by Earth on Halloween, according to scientists, who say that the object was only discovered 10 days ago.

Asteroid 2015 TB145 was discovered Oct. 10 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System 1 (Pan-STARRS-1) in Hawaii.

Related: New maps of Jupiter offer plenty of surprises

“This is the closest approach by a known object this large until 1999 AN10 approaches within 1 lunar distance in August 2027,” said NASA, in a report. “The flyby presents a truly outstanding scientific opportunity to study the physical properties of this object.”

Lunar distance, or the average distance between the Earth and the moon, is about 239,000 miles.

EarthSky reports that the asteroid will pass Earth at a safe distance of 310,000 miles, travelling at a speed of 78,000 mph. 2015 TB145 is about 1,542 feet in diameter, according to EarthSky, which notes that estimates range between 689 to 2,133 feet. Amateur astronomers, it added, may be able to see the asteroid using telescopes of 8-inch diameter and larger on the night of Oct. 30, and before dawn on Oct. 31.

Related: Giant ‘hole’ in Sun is 50 Earths wide

The fact that astronomers only discovered 2015 TB145 three weeks before its Earth flyby, however, highlights the risks that asteroids pose. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program works with astronomers and scientists around the world to look for asteroids that could harm Earth. NASA also has an ambitious plan to capture and redirect an asteroid.

Given their cataclysmic potential it’s hardly surprising that asteroids remain a source of fascination for many people. In August NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory nixed rumors swirling around the Internet of an asteroid impact between sometime between Sept. 15 and 28, 2015.

 

 

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New maps of Jupiter offer plenty of surprises

This new image from the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter, was made during the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. The images from this program make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter's winds, to identify different phenomena in its atmosphere and to track changes in its most famous features. (ESA)

This new image from the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter, was made during the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. The images from this program make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds, to identify different phenomena in its atmosphere and to track changes in its most famous features. (ESA)

In a given year, Jupiter experiences its share of storms, cloudy days and changes in atmospheric chemistry.

Now, scientists have brought all that together in new maps that reveal the planet in a new and surprising light. Already, the images have exposed a rare wave just north of the planet’s equator and a unique filamentary feature in the core of theGreat Red Spot not seen previously.

Related: NASA releases striking new images of Saturn’s moon Enceladus

“Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, whose findings were described in an Astrophysical Journal paper, in a press release.  “This time is no exception.”

The maps are giving scientists a longer-term view of the planet. It is the first in a series of annual portraits of the solar system’s outer planets.

Simon and her colleagues produced two global maps of Jupiter from observations made using the Hubble space telescope’s high-performance Wide Field Camera 3. The two maps represent nearly back-to-back rotations of the planet, making it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds.

The new images also confirm that the Great Red Spot continues to shrink and become more circular, as it has been doing for years. The long axis of this characteristic storm is about 150 miles shorter now than it was in 2014.

Related: Jupiter’s icy moon Europa: Best bet for alien life?

The Great Red Spot appears more orange than red, and its core, which typically has more intense color, is less distinct than it used to be. An unusual wispy filament can also be seen, spanning almost the entire width of the vortex. This filamentary streamer rotates and twists throughout the 10-hour span of the Great Red Spot image sequence, getting distorted by winds blowing at 330 miles per hour or even greater speeds.

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, the researchers found an elusive wave that had been spotted on the planet only once before, decades earlier, by Voyager 2. In those images, the wave is barely visible, and nothing like it was seen again, until the current wave was found traveling at about 16 degrees north latitude, in a region dotted with cyclones and anticyclones.

Similar waves — called baroclinic waves — sometimes appear in Earth’s atmosphere where cyclones are forming.

“Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke,” said co-author Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in the press release. “As it turns out, it’s just rare!”

The wave may originate in a clear layer beneath the clouds, only becoming visible when it propagates up into the cloud deck, according to the researchers.

After Jupiter, researchers plan to release maps of Neptune and Uranus. Saturn will be added to the series later.

“The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting,” said co-author Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, in the press release. “The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, too.”

originally available here

Giant ‘hole’ in Sun is 50 Earths wide

  • A photo of the sun from NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory reveals an enormous coronal hole — a gap in the sun's outer layer and magnetic field the size of 50 Earths. The image was captured Oct

    A photo of the sun from NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory reveals an enormous coronal hole — a gap in the sun’s outer layer and magnetic field the size of 50 Earths. The image was captured Oct (NASA/SDO)

The sun has sprung a leak: A hole in the topmost layer of the sun and its magnetic field, the size of 50 Earths, is letting loose an ultrafast solar wind that has kicked off several nights of auroras down on Earth.

A new image, from NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, reveals the enormous hole as it was Oct. 10, taken at an ultraviolet wavelength unseen by the human eye. To an ordinary observer, the gaping hole would be invisible, though you should NEVER stare at the sun because serious eye damage can result.

The gap in the sun’s magnetic field lets out a stream of particles traveling at up to 500 miles per second, kindling a days-long geomagnetic storm upon hitting Earth. [Biggest Solar Storms of 2015 in Photos]

Coronal holes, like the one that materialized last week, normally form over the sun’s poles and lower latitudes, more often when the sun is at a less active point in its 11-year cycle. They are areas within the sun’s outermost layer, called its corona, which are lower-density and cooler — that, plus the weakened magnetic field, lets the plasma and charged particles that make up the corona stream out more easily in a solar wind. If aimed toward Earth, that spells the makings of a geomagnetic storm: a phenomenon that can affect power and navigation for satellites orbiting the Earth as well as radio communication.

Another side effect of a geomagnetic storm is enhanced northern lights: the glowing auroras that often form in the night sky over the northernmost reaches of the planet grow much brighter and can even extend much farther south than usual. (Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s [NOAA] Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, initially predicted auroras to be visible as far down as Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oregon, although they didn’t ultimately appear quite so low.) Geomagnetic storms and auroras can also be caused by other sun phenomena, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which both blast the corona’s material outward because of increased magnetic activity.

As the coronal hole continues its slow march westward on the sun’s surface (to the right, from Earth’s perspective), solar winds will stay strong, NOAA officialssaid in a statement, which may lead to additional minor geomagnetic storming. Thus, bright auroras will likely continue — at least around the Arctic Circle.

 

originally available here

Sign of alien life? Kepler telescope spots strange star

Image of the Milky Way that includes the Kepler field of view (Credit: Carter Roberts).

Image of the Milky Way that includes the Kepler field of view (Credit: Carter Roberts).

A distant star is getting a lot of attention from astronomers – possibly as a sign that alien life is out there.

The star KIC 8462852 was discovered through Planet Hunters, a citizen science program at Yale University. Taking data from the Kepler Space Telescope, volunteers go searching for signs of a drop in light due to orbiting exoplanets crossing in front of their parent stars.

KIC 8462852 is 1,481 light years away from Earth. A light year measures the astronomical distance that light travels in one year and is equivalent to 5.8 trillion miles.

Yale University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, who wrote a paper on the star that appeared in the Monthly Notes of the Royals Astronomical Society, told the New Scientist that she was drawn to the star’s flickering behavior.

Related: NASA’s Kepler mission discovers Earth’s older, bigger cousin

She then sent her data to Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright, who has done research on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

He was impressed.

“That was when I got interested in in it because the light curve is so bizarre,” Wright told FoxNews.com. “It gets dimmer for days at a time. We haven’t seen anything quite like this.”

Wright said such behavior has been seen in young stars. Such flickering in young stars, he said, could be from something landing on the star, a disc of material passing in front of it as well as something like the “recent discovery of a giant planet with enormous rings and it very slowly, over the course of a month or two, passed in front of its star and the star kept flickering, blinking out as the rings went by.”

But KIC 8462852 is not young.

“This seems to be old. It doesn’t show any signs of youth. It is nowhere near a place that stars form,” Wright said.

“It’s moving too quickly to be a young star. It doesn’t look young,” he said. “So, that gets rid of all the natural, obvious things. Then, you start reaching for contrived ways to do this to an old star.”

Related: Cassini gets close encounter with Saturn’s moon Enceladus

In her paper, Boyajian, according to the Atlantic, ruled out a number of scenarios for the odd flickering, including instrument malfunction. She came up with only one scenario that made sense – a sea of comets pulled inwards by another passing star.

Wright said this is a “nice but contrived explanation”  – and something that would have been incredibly hard for planet hunters to have noticed.

“We just happened to be looking when a giant swarm of enormous comets is passing by,” he said. “Maybe. Something weird is going. This may be the best explanation I’ve heard so far.”

Another possibility is that the flickering is a sign of alien life, a swarm of megastructures built by space creatures passing in front of the star.

Such a scenario was first proposed in 2005 by astronomer Luke Arnold.

“If alien civilizations do build giant structures, planet-sized structures in space, sometimes they will pass in front of their star and it will look different from when a planet transits the star,” Wright told FoxNews.com. “If Kepler surveyed 100,000 stars and one of those is surrounded by alien megastructures, Kepler will notice them. They won’t look like a planet. They will look very different.”

Wright said it was “notable” that KIC 8462852 has these “very strange signatures that presumably are consistent with giant noncircular structures going in front of it.”

But Wright added that the the flickering of KIC 8462852 is “unlikely to be aliens.”

“But you have got to look,” he said. “It’s got us intrigued and it’s worth it for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to take a look because that is what SETI does. SETI is a moon shot, a long shot …You have to try and this is one of the best places to look.”

With a clear explanation elusive, Boyajian is now teaming up to write a proposal with Wright and Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California Berkeley. They would like to direct a huge radio dish at the star to see if it emits radio waves of the “sort that could only be emitted by artificial technology.”

“If you see radio emissions of the sort that we’ll look for with this antennae coming from that star, then that is case closed,” Wright said, comparing such a discovery to something out of the movie “Contact”. “There is no natural way to generate those. That is why they do it. It’s a slam dunk case for alien intelligence.”

 

Originally available here

Hubble space telescope captures stunning image of barred spiral galaxy

Galaxy NGC 4639 (ESA/Hubble & NASA).

Galaxy NGC 4639 (ESA/Hubble & NASA).

The Hubble space telescope has captured a stunning image of a faraway galaxy known as a barred spiral.

Galaxy NGC 4639 is located over 70 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo. NGC 4639 is one of about 1500 galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), one of NASA’s Hubble partners.

A light year measures the astronomical distance that light travels in one year and is equivalent to 5.8 trillion miles.

Related: The best of Hubble

The image clearly shows a “bar” running through the galaxy’s bright, round core, the ESA said, in astatement. “Bars are found in around two thirds of spiral galaxies, and are thought to be a natural phase in their evolution,” it added.

The image on the right can be expanded to show galaxy NGC 4639 (ESA/Hubble & NASA).

NGC 4639’s arms are “sprinkled with bright regions of active star formation,” according to the ESA. “Each of these tiny jewels is actually several hundred light-years across and contains hundreds or thousands of newly formed stars,” it explained.

Related: Supermoon lunar eclipse in pictures

However, scientists note that the galaxy contains a dark secret at its core – a massive black hole that is consuming the surrounding gas. “This is known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and is revealed by characteristic features in the spectrum of light from the galaxy and by X-rays produced close to the black hole as the hot gas plunges towards it,” said the ESA.

The Hubble space telescope, which was launched by NASA in 1990, celebratedits 25th anniversary earlier this year.

Earlier this year astronomers used three telescopes, including the Hubble to spota baby blue galaxy that is farther away in space than any other galaxy ever seen. The galaxy, named  EGS-zs8-1, is 13.1 billion light-years away.

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NASA confirms ancient lakes existed on Mars 2 to 3 billion years ago

093015_dotcom_mars_1280

Billions of years ago, there were lakes shimmering on Mars.

That is the conclusion from the team behind NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity, who used data from the Curiosity rover to determine that water helped deposit sediment into Gale Crater. Three years ago, the rover landed at the crater and it has been exploring the area ever since.

“Observations from the rover suggest that a series of long-lived streams and lakes existed at some point between about 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, delivering sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, and co-author
of the new Science article to be published Friday, in a press release.

The findings build upon previous work that suggested there were ancient lakes on Mars and offers the latest proof that the Red Planet was wet. Last month, NASA scientists confirmed that water flowed on Mars.

Related: Supermoon lunar eclipse in pictures

“What we thought we knew about water on Mars is constantly being put to the test,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a press release. “It’s clear that the Mars of billions of years ago more closely
resembled Earth than it does today. Our challenge is to figure out how this more clement Mars was even possible, and what happened to that wetter Mars.”

The findings of a wet planet don’t exactly match up with models developed by paleoclimatologists – a similar conundrum in trying to understand Earth’s ancient past.

“Aside from the shapes of the continents, geologists had paleontological evidence that fossil plants and animals in Africa and South America were closely related, as well as unique volcanic rocks suggestive of a common spatial origin,” John Grotzinger, the former project scientist for Mars Science Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and lead author of the new report, in a press release. “The problem was that the broad community of Earth scientists could not come up with a physical mechanism to explain how the continents could plow their way through Earth’s mantle and drift apart. It seemed impossible. The missing component was plate tectonics. In a possibly similar way, we are missing something important about Mars.”

Related: NASA spacecraft discovers blue sky, red ice on Pluto

In mid-September 2014, the rover reached the foothills of Aeolis Mons, a three-mile-high layered mountain nicknamed “Mount Sharp” in honor of the late Caltech geologist Robert Sharp. Curiosity has been exploring the base of the mountain since then.

Before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, scientists proposed that Gale Crater had filled with layers of sediments. Some hypotheses were “dry,” suggesting that sediment accumulated from wind-blown dust and sand. Others focused on the possibility that sediment layers were deposited in ancient lakes.

Based on the new analysis, the filling of at least the bottom layers of the mountain occurred mostly by ancient rivers and lakes over a period of less than 500 million years.

“During the traverse of Gale, we have noticed patterns in the geology where we saw evidence of ancient fast-moving streams with coarser gravel, as well as places where streams appear to have emptied out into bodies of standing water,” Vasavada said. “The prediction was that we should start seeing water-deposited, fine-grained rocks closer to Mount Sharp. Now that we’ve arrived, we’re seeing finely laminated mudstones in
abundance that look like lake deposits.”

The mudstone indicates that the lakes may have been around for some time, the presence repeatedly expanding and contracting during hundreds to millions of years.

“Paradoxically, where there is a mountain today there was once a basin, and it was sometimes filled with water,” Grotzinger said, in the press release. “We see evidence of about 250 feet (75 meters) of sedimentary fill, and based on mapping data from NASA’s
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and images from Curiosity’s camera, it appears that the water-transported sedimentary deposition could have extended at least 500 to 650 feet (150 to 200) meters above the crater floor.”

But where did the water come from?

For flowing water to have existed on the surface, Mars must have had a thicker atmosphere and warmer climate than has been theorized for the ancient era when Gale Crater experienced the intense geological activity.

At least some of the water may have been supplied to the lakes by snowfall and rain in the highlands of the Gale Crater rim. Some have made the argument that there was an ocean in the plains north of the crater, but that does not explain how the water managed to exist as a liquid for extended periods of time on the surface.

“We have tended to think of Mars as being simple,” Grotzinger said. “We once thought of the Earth as being simple too. But the more you look into it, questions come up because you’re beginning to fathom the real complexity of what we see on Mars. This is a good
time to go back to reevaluate all our assumptions. Something is missing somewhere.”

As scientists work to develop better atmospheric models, help solving that riddle should come as Curiosity continues to climb Mount Sharp in the years to come.

“There are still many kilometers of Mars history to explore,” said Woody Fischer, professor of geobiology at Caltech and coauthor of the paper, in a press release. “The strata will reveal Gale’s early history, its tory. We know there are rocks that were deposited underwater, in the lake. What is the chemistry of these rocks? That lake represented an interface
between the water and the atmosphere, and should tell us important things about
the environment of the time.”

 

Originally available here

NASA spacecraft discovers blue sky, red ice on Pluto

Oct. 8, 2015: This image released by NASA shows regions with exposed water ice highlighted in blue in this composite image taken with the New Horizons spacecraft's Ralph instrument. The image combines visible imagery from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA).  The scene is approximately 280 miles across. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

Oct. 8, 2015: This image released by NASA shows regions with exposed water ice highlighted in blue in this composite image taken with the New Horizons spacecraft’s Ralph instrument. The image combines visible imagery from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA). The scene is approximately 280 miles across. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

The sky over Pluto may not be sunny, but it’s undoubtedly blue.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovered Pluto’s blue sky during the historic flyby of the icy dwarf planet in July. The images of Pluto’s atmospheric haze were beamed down last week and released by NASA on Thursday.

The particles in the atmospheric haze are actually red and gray, according to scientists. But the way the particles scatter blue light is what has everyone excited about the dwarf planet orbiting on the far fringes of our solar system, a twilight zone known more formally as the Kuiper Belt.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It’s gorgeous,” Alan Stern, the principal scientist for New Horizons, said in a NASA release about the latest images.

The blue tint can help scientists understand the size and makeup of the haze particles surrounding Pluto, where twilight constantly reigns given the 3.6 billion-mile distance between it and the sun.

Pluto’s high-altitude haze seems to be comparable to that of Saturn’s moon, Titan, according to NASA, and the result of interaction between molecules.

In another finding Thursday, scientists have uncovered numerous ice patches on Pluto’s surface. The exposed water ice appears to be, mysteriously, red.

Scientists said they are uncertain why the ice appears in certain places at Pluto and not others.

Launched in 2006, New Horizons is now 63 million miles beyond Pluto. Johns Hopkins University in Maryland is operating the spacecraft for NASA.

 

Originally available here

Draconid meteor shower: What you need to know

File photo - A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid meteor shower near the village of Malashki, north of Minsk, Belarus, in the early morning Aug. 13, 2015. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

File photo – A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid meteor shower near the village of Malashki, north of Minsk, Belarus, in the early morning Aug. 13, 2015. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

Tonight is the night to catch a glimpse of a shooting star.

The rare opportunity for skywatchers comes Thursday and Friday with the annual Draconid meteor shower, which is caused by the remains of a comet raining down on Earth.

If the skies are clear, the Draconid meteor shower will be seen radiating out of the constellation Draco (the Dragon) near the triangle formed by the stars Deneb, Altair and Vega. NASA estimates that, on average, about 10 to 20 meteors per hour will be visible during the Draconids.

Related: Supermoon lunar eclipse in pictures

It should be excellent viewing, according to EarthSky.org, due to the fact that the moon will be just a faint crescent. EarthSky.org says the best time to see the shower is at nightfall, rather than the pre-dawn hours, and the best viewing direction is due north.

While the Draconids appear to be coming from the constellation Draco, they are actually a result of Earth colliding with debris shed by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which orbits the sun once every 6.5 years.

Celestial dynamicists would expect the planet’s powerful gravity to scatter anything in its vicinity into varying and unpredictable orbit, according to NASA. But they believe that a stream of particles, ejected in 1900, is still largely intact.

Related: Stunning Perseid meteor shower pictures

To watch the meteor shower, you don’t need any special equipment. Just grab a coat, step outside and start scanning the skies in the United States, Europe or Canada.

It also helps to pick a viewing spot far from city lights, since that can reduce the numbers of meteors that you might see. Binoculars or telescopes are not of much use because meteors travel unpredictably and typically only last a couple of seconds.

And while the meteor shower will put on a good show, it’s unlikely any will reach the ground. Particles from Draconids aren’t big enough and probably will burn up high in the atmosphere.

In August, stargazers in the northern hemisphere enjoyed the oldest meteor shower known to Earth. The annual Perseid shower occurs when pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle hit Earth’s atmosphere at more than 133,000 mph and burn up.

Originally available here