The majority of sky gazers know the big names among the annual meteor showers like the Geminids and the Perseids, but if astronomers calculations of celestial events prove to be correct, the Earth is about to experience an awesome meteor shower in which most individuals have never even heard of. They are called the Camelopardalids. If anyone reading this article is unfamiliar with this certain meteor shower, do not be surprised. Astronomy records do not show much evidence that the “Cams” have made any type of notable appearance before. These meteors are dust bits thrown off from the sporadic comet known as 209P/LINEAR, which only orbits the Sun about every five years.
However what has gotten scientists really excited is that it is possible the Earth might just charge right through a moderately dense debris strand shed by the comet a long time ago. This may produce a heavy eruption of “shooting stars” from the meteor shower on May 24. Numerous predictions are suggesting there could be anywhere from 100 to 500 meteors each hour if the sky is viewed from a dark area that is free of lights. This means that anyone reading this might see a couple meteors each minute. Many astronomers believe that there is even a possibility that the celestial display could for a short time even become a meteor “storm,” where there are over 1,000 appearing each hour.
Whether there is any storm or not, the peak is expected to happen between about 6:30 and 7:30 Universal Time on the 24th. Such timing is very good for those who live in North America, although it means anyone interested will have to be outside at around 3 a.m. on the East Coast and just about midnight on the West Coast. The strongest flare-up will be short, only lasting a few hours, although a slightly longer duration is considered to be a possibility. Moonlight will not be a problem because it will be the size of a waning, slim crescent.
The meteors will show up all over the horizon so be sure to look in the area that gives the darkest view. Remarkably there have been several reports of very bright fireballs which show up a week or two before the Camelopardalids. Are these early meteors part of the group? It is most likely according to astronomers. In fact one such fire ball flew threw the skies of Louisville, Kentucky just two nights ago. It was probably a forerunner of the “Cams.”
Comet 209P/LINEAR went through a perihelion on May 6 and will fly by Earth only five million miles or 0.055 of an astronomical unit on May 29. That will be the 13th nearest approach of any comet that is on astronomical records. However the comet will not become any brighter.
On top of all that uncertainty is even though the comet might be active now, it was not so in many years. Peter Jenniskens, who is a meteor specialist at the SETI Institute, stated that scientists do not know what to expect from the meteor show, because the comet itself has not been seen in the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries. Even though most sky gazers have never heard of Camelopardalids, after May 24, they may never forget this meteor shower’s name.
By Kimberly Ruble