The much hyped, never-before-seen Camelopardilid meteor storm last weekend turned out to be more of a cosmic trickle, leaving many onlookers disappointed and wondering what happened. Space particles of the wrong size—too small—resulted in an underwhelming sky show.
But scientists reported that they were pleased with observations of the event, even without the shooting stars.
Predictions had called for dozens, if not hundreds, of shooting stars every hour in the early morning of May 24th. Instead, the shower generated only five to ten visible meteors flying across the weekend skies. (Related: Watch New Meteor Shower Peak in the Sky and Online)
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 and is visible across the entire Northern Hemisphere.
For the shower’s expected peak, I camped out under my brightly lit suburban backyard in Montreal, Canada, and in the course of two hours saw only four meteors under partly cloudy skies.
Some took to social media to vent their frustration:
— Peter Patau (@MadisonGuy) May 25, 2014
So I set the alarm for 2am and get up drive further north to watch the #meteorshower Epic fail. Watched for 1 hr..no luck
— Vinni (@killbearjunkie) May 25, 2014
Others managed to snap some pretty meteoritic portraits, capturing bright beauties streaking across the crystal clear skies above dark countryside locales in the U.S.:
Hit and Miss?
While the celestial shower may have been a dud for many skywatchers, it was a big hit with scientists.
The Camelopardilid forecasts were based on multiple computer models that tracked clouds of debris shed by comet 209P/LINEAR 200 years ago. Earth was supposed to slam into the cloud’s densest region this past weekend, creating a light show.
Predictions were on the mark in terms of timing, as meteors did appear in the predawn hours of North American skies between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. EDT. And while many more meteors than normal actually hit our atmosphere then, most were simply invisible to observers.
According to meteor researcher Peter Brown of University of Western Ontario, the all-sky Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar picked up the echoes of dozens of meteors burning up in Earth’s upper atmosphere on May 24, just as Earth plowed through the cometary debris stream.
“CMOR detected about one hundred orbits from the stream, making this comparable to the 2011 Draconids in terms of strength, as seen by the radar,” Brown told Spaceweather.com.
However, what was unexpected was that most were as faint as six and seventh magnitude, making them way too dim to be seen with the unaided eye, even from the darkest locations.
So where did the forecast models go wrong? The meteors were too small in size to create much of a visual light show, but they were big enough for radar stations to pick up.
Hints of this could have been seen from the lackluster performance of its parent comet, LINEAR, which shed very little material when it rounded the sun this week. (Related: See the comet through backyard telescopes as it makes its closest approach to Earth in it’s five-year orbit around the sun.)
We have to keep in mind that meteor shower forecasting is in its infancy, done in earnest for only a better part of a decade.
Despite the disappointment, the success seen in the timing and meteor count with this week’s Camelopardilids points to a brighter future for the next celestial shower discovery.