[meteorite-list] Ready for May's Surprise Meteor Shower?
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed, 21 May 2014 12:54:43 -0700 (PDT)
Ready for May's Surprise Meteor Shower?
By: Kelly Beatty
Sky & Telescope
May 21, 2014
Dim, obscure periodic comet 209P/LINEAR is about to pass close to Earth
- and bring with it a trail of debris that could make for an exciting
meteor shower in May, during the predawn hours of the 24th.
Most skygazers are familiar with the usual "biggies" among meteor showers
like the Perseids and Geminids. But if the calculations of celestial dynamicists
are correct, we're about to experience a terrific meteor shower that virtually
no one's ever heard of: the Camelopardalids.
Meteors from the May 24th's early-morning display can appear anywhere
in the sky, but they will appear to originate from a point (called the
radiant) in the constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. Stars are plotted
for 2 a.m. local daylight time as seen from mid-northern latitudes.
Sky & Telescope illustration.
Don't blame yourself for not knowing about this one - historic records
show little evidence that the "Cams" have ever made an appearance before.
They are bits of dust cast off from periodic comet 209P/LINEAR, an obscure,
dim comet that circles the Sun every 5.1 years.
What's got dynamicists excited, however, is that Earth might might plow
right through relatively dense strands of debris shed by the comet long
ago. This should create a strong burst of "shooting stars" on May 24th.
Several predictions suggest you might see anywhere from 100 to 400 meteors
per hour from a dark location free of light pollution. That means you
could perhaps see a few meteors per minute. Some (but not all) dynamicists
think there's even an outside chance that the celestial spectacle could
briefly become a meteor "storm," with more than 1,000 arriving per hour!
Timing is Great for North America
This plot shows that, from the suburbs of San Francisco, a skywatcher
out just after midnight on May 24th might see more than 100 meteors in
an hour from new Camelopardalid shower. You can use the same "Fluximator"
to estimate how many meteors you'll see from various cities (and using
Peter Jenniskens / SETI Institute
Storm or no storm, they agree that the peak will likely occur between
about 6:30 and 7:30 Universal Time on the 24th. This timing favors North
Americans, though it means you'll have to be out around 3 a.m. on the
East Coast and just after midnight on the West Coast. The outburst will
be brief, lasting just a few hours, though a somewhat longer duration
is possible. Moonlight from a slender waning crescent won't be a problem.
The meteors will appear all over the sky (so you'll want to look in whatever
direction gives you the darkest view.) But follow their bright paths backward,
and they'll lead you to a location in the dim constellation of Camelopardalis,
the Giraffe, about 12? from Polaris. The high declination of this shower's
radiant, well above the northern horizon for most of us, is good news
Interestingly, in the past week there've been a few reports of really
bright fireballs from this radiant direction. Are these early arrivals
from the Camelopardalids? Maybe! They've certainly gotten the attention
of dynamicist Esko Lyytinen. "This made me think that if the sky is clear
here in Finland during the predicted shower, I will try to tune my fireball
camera to observe in the daylight for a possible daylight fireball," he
According to predictions, a little-known comet will pass perihelion in
early May of 2014 and, two weeks later, sandblast Earth with dust particles
spread along its orbit.
NASA / JPL / Horizons
Discovered in 2004, Comet 209P/LINEAR passed through perihelion on May
6th and will skirt just 5 million miles (0.055 astronomical unit) from
Earth on May 29th. That will be the 9th closest approach of any comet
on record. But the comet itself won't get any brighter than 11th magnitude.
Besides, the meteors we'll see are not from this pass - instead, they'll
be from perihelion passes as long ago as the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Adding to the uncertainty is that while the comet is active now, it might
not have been all those years ago. "We do not know what rate to expect,
because the comet was not observed in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries,"
explains meteor specialist Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute).
For those who might have the misfortune of cloudy weather during the Camelopardalid
shower - or if you live where it won't be seen (sorry, Aussies!) - Italian
astronomer Gianluca Masi (Virtual Telescope Project) is planning an online
meteor watch. "We will have several observers in the U.S. and Canada using
wide-field imaging and all-sky cameras to send us images, assuring live
coverage," he says. Coverage begins at 5:30 Universal Time on May 24th.
You can also watch a webcast using the Slooh robotic telescopes. The Slooh
team will view and discuss the comet starting at 6 p.m. EDT (22:00 UT)
and follow with live coverage of the new meteor shower a few hours later
at 11 p.m. EDT (3:00 UT on May 24th).
Should this event tempt you to pull out your camera, read our article
on How to Photograph a Meteor Shower for equipment and techniques that
will help you toward success.
Received on Wed 21 May 2014 03:54:43 PM PDT