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How to watch - and 'listen' - to tonight's meteor shower

By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

10:14 AM EDT, May 23, 2014

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Some clouds could partially block the view of a new meteor shower from Maryland tonight, but there is also a way you can hear the meteors' presence on a regular FM radio.

To see the meteor shower, it's best to go somewhere far from city lights and with a wide open view of the sky. Partly cloudy skies are forecast overnight in the Baltimore area, which likely shouldn't be enough to obscure the heavens completely.

Meteors, dubbed the Camelopardalids for the constellation they appear to emanate from, may start appearing before midnight, with a peak in the wee hours of Saturday morning before daybreak, about 2-4 a.m.

Earth is expected to pass through a debris trail left behind a comet that was discovered in 2004 and named Comet 209P/LINEAR. The shower could mean 100 "shooting stars" per hour, or more. Some scientists have suggested rates of up to 400 meteors per hour.

But if you can't see them -- whether because of city lights, clouds, or because there is still uncertainty over how abundant they may be -- there are other ways to witness the shower.

According to Space.com, when meteors burn up in the atmosphere, they ionize air molecules that "can scatter and reflect radio waves, in much the same way that jet contrails scatter sunlight, leaving a glowing trail in the darkening sky after sunset."

Those ions reflect radio waves, resulting in faraway signals momentarily strengthening. If you tune an FM radio to a low-frequency station that is just broadcasting static, you can hear blips from far-flung radio stations.

Or else there will be several live webcasts of the shower from around the world, including from the Slooh telescope, the Virtual Telescope Project, and Space.com.