Sky-watchers across North America are waiting with great anticipation for the predicted peak of a never-before-seen meteor shower this weekend.
Latest computer models suggest that there may be dozens if not hundreds of shooting stars per hour at peak time. This sky show has the potential to rival even August’s famed Perseids.
If the most optimistic predictions hold true, then a genuine meteor storm may be in store for sky-watchers, with as many as 200 or more shooting stars per hour flying across our skies at its peak, which will occur in the morning in Europe and very early in North America, on Saturday, May 24.
The new shower, dubbed the May Camelopardalids, is a result of dust shed from the faint periodic comet 209P/LINEAR. The comet regularly crosses Earth’s orbit as it rounds the sun every five years.
The coming shower’s parent comet was discovered in February 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Project. Meteor experts predicted three years ago that the particles ejected by the comet back in the 1800s may await Earth as it circles the sun.
By calculating the movements of the comet’s particle cloud, scientists have been able to determine that Earth should cross this historic debris stream on May 24.
Many researchers looking at the data are a bit skeptical, however, on how well the shower will perform. Some believe that it’s hard to tell exactly how much debris Earth will be encountering. They say that the strength of the meteor shower really depends on how active the comet was centuries ago when it deposited the dust.
“We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s,” explained William Cooke of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, in a NASA video. “As a result of this uncertainty, this could be a great meteor shower or a complete dud.
“Will this new shower pan out? No one can say for sure, but the only way to know is to head outside and look up.”
Where and When to Look
As with other established showers, the new meteors are named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate—the faint northern constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe, in this case. It resides near the North Star.
To find the constellation, face north in the early morning hours before dawn and look for the Big Dipper in the sky. The giraffe constellation is located to its far right and is about 30 degrees below Polaris, the North Star. That’s about equal to the width of three fists held at arm’s length and stacked on top of each other.
The absolute peak of the shower—when Earth is predicted to make its way through the thickest part of the debris stream—is expected to arrive between 6 and 8 a.m. Universal Time, or 2 to 4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on May 24.
North Americans are favored for the sky show because the peak time occurs during the darkest hours of nighttime, when the radiant is at its highest point in the sky. Look downstream of the radiant to catch sight of the meteors.
Since this is a new shower, predictions may be off by a few hours—and surprises may be in store. So the best bet is to plan on staying up overnight. Start brewing some hot chocolate and get those blankets ready. It’s going to be a long night!
And if you get clouded out then check out the shower through a live webcast thanks to a network of all-sky cameras set up by NASA and web-baed astronomy outreach comapny, Slooh.
Slooh will broadcast the comet event from its telescopes located off the west coast of Africa, at the Institute of Astrophyiscs of the Canary Islands, on May 23rd starting at 3 PM PDT / 6 PM EDT / 22 UTC – International Times – and then will follow up with live coverage of the new meteor shower starting at 8 PM PDT/ 11 PM EDT/ 03 UTC (5/24) – International Times.
Viewers can ask questions during the comet show by using hashtag #slooh.
Comet Broadcast: Starts 6 pm EDT
Meteor shower broadcast: starts 11 pm EDT