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Witness the Birth of a Meteor Shower

Soulskill posted about 8 months ago | from the pretty-lights-in-the-sky dept.

Space 28

StartsWithABang writes: "Here on Earth, we think of shooting stars and meteor showers as things that happen periodically; sometimes they're spectacular, sometimes they're rare. But in all cases, they're caused by comet debris, and they should flare up each time the Earth crosses the comet's path. But as it turns out, every meteor shower had a point in its past where it happened for the very first time. In all of human history, we've never recorded one that occurred for the very first time where none happened before. Well, for those of you who want to take the chance to be a part of it, this coming Friday night/Saturday morning, look for the Camelopardalids, making their Earthly debut this year!"

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First (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055073)

First! (Actually!)

I live in the UK... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055087)

...so it'll be "...this coming Friday night/Saturday morning, look up and see... clouds!"

Re: I live in the UK... (1)

Teranolist (3658793) | about 8 months ago | (#47055123)

Don't be so lazy... Build yourself a (big) ladder and climb above!

Re:I live in the UK... (1)

NotInHere (3654617) | about 8 months ago | (#47055305)

So then, watch it from the cloud!

Re:I live in the UK... (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 8 months ago | (#47055325)

If there aren't clouds you probably won't see much anyway. According to SETI [seti.org] the estimated peak rate in London is 0.2 meteors per hour.

Re:I live in the UK... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055655)

"Keep your expectations low, but don't miss it! " from the link at SETI,

We don't really know whats going to happen... If you miss it and its cool we are going to make fun of you because you missed a first in history. If you make it and it sucks we are going to make fun of you because we said it was not going to be all that fun...

Cameltoetards (5, Informative)

tquasar (1405457) | about 8 months ago | (#47055135)

Another view from some space guy, Dr Phillips: http://science.nasa.gov/scienc... [nasa.gov]

Re:Cameltoetards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055197)

Anything but medium.com.

Re:Cameltoetards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055311)

For articles neither rare nor well done...

Camelopardalis Shower (3, Informative)

kaladorn (514293) | about 8 months ago | (#47058585)

A friend of mine who works for NASA (or at least in the downstream distribution of NASA satellite data) and is an amateur astronomer and photographer sent me this information: (Thanks Indy!) - Maybe it'll be useful to some....

So, this coming weekend, specifically Friday night/Saturday morning, there is to be a brand spanky new meteor shower happening. So brand spanky new it hasn't been observed before, because the dust from the associated comet has not intersected with Earth's path until now. And because of all the uncertainty with the debris stream, there are heavy caveats to "this MAY happen" - but if it does...brand new event never before seen!

Given that it's so new, that nothing is *known* about it, anything could happen. It could fizzle. Or it could become the most spectacular thing to happen since the Leonid meteor storm of 2002 (it is unlikely, however great this meteor shower gets, that it'll get THAT good!).

So, first, the nuts and bolts for this weekend. The meteor shower is *predicted* to reach it's peak between the hours of 2am and 4am Eastern Daylight Time on the morning of May 24th (adjust your times accordingly with respect to your time zones; example, midnight to 2am Mountain Time). BUT, because there are uncertainties in exactly where the dust ball is that we will be passing by, it could peak upwards of a few hours on either side of that. However, the meteor folk who have been tracking this stuff are reasonably confident on their predict times.

Further to this, it's not known how distributed the debris cloud is. It could be pretty compact, in which case the peak may last only a few minutes. Or it could be fairly distributed, in which case the peak could last for hours. Or it could be clumpy, in which case there may be more than one peak! Again, new brand spanky new meteor shower, we have no idea yet! :-D

Second, the meteor shower will appear to be coming out of the *very* obscure constellation of Camelopardalis, which is situated to the right of the Big Dipper, left of Cassiopeia, and below the Little Dipper (see attached image). It's a pretty sparse area of sky. The constellation is so obscure that in the decades of my looking at the sky, I've never tried tracing it out. Maybe this weekend I finally will. :-D

So, given the above radiant, your best option to face during the shower is to the north (and if you're not sure where that is - and not everyone does, especially if they are directionally challenged - remember where the sun went down, then stand so that direction is off to your left :-) ). But don't *focus* on staring to the north! Look around. Face east a bit. West. Look overhead! Meteors can fall all around. It's just that you will likely see more (albeit shorter, quicker) meteors coming out of the north than you will to the west, east, or overhead (which will be longer, and slower, but relatively fewer). But don't restrict yourself to only northward-looking.

Darkness. If at all possible, you want to find the darkest location you can to see this. That means, getting out of and AWAY from the cities. Light pollution will utterly swamp the sky, and you won't see ANYthing. :-( The further away from lights you can get, the better. And get to a location where you have open skies, a view to the north, and can see as much of the sky as possible (being in the middle of the woods - dark or not - won't do you a bit of good in viewing the sky much)

Dressing for the Weather. Assuming it'll be clear where you are, check the forecasted temperature lows, and dress as if it will be 10-15 degrees cooler/colder than that. Hats are good. :-) Meteor watching - heck, night sky watching in general - is not among the more heat-inducing activities. ;-) Also, lawn chairs or blankets, and sleeping bags, are nice to have. Be comfortable!

What you MIGHT expect to see? Really, nobody *knows* for certain, but I've seen some healthy numbers tossed out that you COULD MAYBE see upwards of 100-400 meteors/hour (comes out to 1.5 to almost 7 meteors/minute). That's a healthy number, but it is not a storm (you need 1000+ meteors/hour to make it a meteor storm; don't let any popular media fool you on this). The vast majority of meteor showers that occur during the year only yield 10-20 or so meteors/hour. The most popular meteor showers - the Perseids and the Geminids - have usual runs going from 50-120 meteors/hour (they are popular because the meteors are plentiful - averaging 1-2 meteors/minute - and bright). This new meteor shower...it could fizzle to be something on the order of 5-10 meteors/hour, or it could meet the predicts and be a pretty spectacular show! We won't know until Saturday morning.

Note: if you see meteors moving across the sky from directions other than the general vicinity of Camelopardalis, those would probably be sporadics, random meteors that burn through our skies all the time (but fairly infrequently), not associated with any specific meteor shower. They often have characteristics different from those of a meteor shower (faster, slower, different color, brightness/dimness, etc). Just an fyi, in case you see any and they aren't "behaving" like the Camelopardalids (assuming this new meteor shower kicks off as is hoped).

Unfortunately for a vast majority of the people in the world, they won't get to see this show. Because it's coming out of the north, and from the nominal circumpolar constellations, folks in the southern hemisphere are unlikely to see anything. And for those in the northern hemisphere, the further south one is in the hemisphere, the less one will see. Also, due to the predicted timing of the peak, the majority of the meteors are supposed to occur in the wee hours for the eastern United States and Canada. But because the radiant is so high in the north, even western US/Canada will get their opportunity to see it in their hours earlier than the Eastern folks (remember, adjust for the time zones; consider the peak time to be the benchmark and adjust your views accordingly).

Also, those folks in Europe/Asia will be in daylight during the peak of the shower. :-( (well, the Europeans did get to see 1000+ meteors/hour during the great Leonid Meteor Storm of 2002; I "only" got to witness a rate around 600-800/hour by the time this part of the world rotated into the stream).

Finally, just because the peak is slated for 2-4am Saturday morning does not mean there won't be meteors falling earlier or later. We don't know how broad or sharp the peak is, so there could be a good show going on a couple hours before or after the peak time. We Just Don't Know. But we will find out! :-)

Some links for you:

Universe Today:

Bad Astronomy Blog:

Astro Bob's Blog:

If it's cloudy where you are, or you are in a part of the world where you'll be unable to view the show, you can view it life here:

If you want to try your hand at photographing the shower, tons of sites out there with good base 'how to' info:

Re:Camelopardalis Shower (1)

tquasar (1405457) | about 8 months ago | (#47063077)


eyes to the sky witness the lie (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055175)

beware falling gargoyles http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wmd+on+credit+genocide+weather+manipulation

Camelopardalids? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055181)


Sounds like a clawed parasite on a hump-backed desert animal.

No damn wonder kids these days get their new from TMZ and pay no attention to science...

Re:Camelopardalids? (1)

Vulch (221502) | about 8 months ago | (#47055241)

Early name for a giraffe. Probably given by someone who was a bit hazy about what a camel looked like...

Re:Camelopardalids? (3, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | about 8 months ago | (#47055363)

Actually, I suspect it was named by someone who possibly knew quite well what a camel and a leopard looked like, but only had a crude description or sketch from someone who had been one of the first Europeans to travel far enough into Africa to see a giraffe first hand. The name is ancient, not part of modern taxonomy, and other than the length of the neck and lack of a hump, it's actually not too far off visually, especially if you've seen both up close; a camel (long legs, quite tall, with a fairly long neck) combined a leopard's skin patterning.

Re:Camelopardalids? (3, Informative)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 8 months ago | (#47055369)

Long legs like a camel, spots like a leopard. Not that hazy really. Actually more descriptive than Giraffe itself ("zarafa"), "fast walker".

medium.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47055415)

medium.com really seems to be promoting itself this past couple of weeks. Reddit, here and elsewhere.

shooting stars (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 8 months ago | (#47055489)

"But in all cases, they're caused by comet debris"

There was a shooting star 65 million years ago that wasn't caused by comet debris, and others since then that were not quite as spectacular.

Re:shooting stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47056435)

shooting star != meteor shower.

Methodological Problem in Summary? (1)

careysub (976506) | about 8 months ago | (#47056513)

In all of human history, we've never recorded one that occurred for the very first time where none happened before.

How do we know it never happened before? It may be sporadic and simply escaped recording (which was quite hit or miss before modern times).

There are many showers that were reported for the first time in recent history with no record of prior observation (e.g. the Quadrantids, never noted before 1825). In fact we are currently in a period of frequent shower discovery (several new ones a year) since sky-imaging networks are now picking up many showers that are sparse, and thus eluded visual detection.

The summary should have said "we've never predicted a shower where none has been observed before", it remains to be seen whether this one materializes.

The lifetime of a shower is typically several thousand years, so they are periodically being created.

Re:Methodological Problem in Summary? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47057051)

How do we know it never happened before?

Because we read the article?

"Well, there’s a very short period comet—Comet 209P/LINEAR—that completes an orbit every 5.09 years. Because of the way the comet (first discovered in 2004) and its orbit were oriented, it (and the dusty debris surrounding it) didn’t come close to Earth. But this year will different; in 2012, it passed close by to Jupiter, which changed its orbit slightly. For the first time in history, this comet will pass within just 5 million miles (8 million km) of Earth on May 29th. Along with it, it’s expected that a large fraction of the dusty debris in that elliptical orbit will pass near Earth as well!"

That is, meteor showers come from the debris that comets leave. This particular comet has not previously crossed the Earth's orbit, so it never left dust that could collide with the atmosphere and make a meteor shower. It's recently changed orbits, so now it does cross the Earth's orbit, so we'll be going through it's dust for the first time, meaning it's a brand new meteor shower.

Re:Methodological Problem in Summary? (1)

careysub (976506) | about 8 months ago | (#47057253)

Thanks - I read TFA. Did you actually read my post? It does NOT prove this was the first time in human history this ever happened! Got the point now, AC?

Re:Methodological Problem in Summary? (2)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 8 months ago | (#47057427)

How do we know it never happened before? It may be sporadic and simply escaped recording (which was quite hit or miss before modern times).

There are many showers that were reported for the first time in recent history with no record of prior observation (e.g. the Quadrantids, never noted before 1825).

With showers such as the one you cited, we were able to extrapolate back and recognize that they had in fact crossed our path in the past, though any records of their having done so didn't survive to the present. The same is not true here, hence why it's such a big deal. A lack of records doesn't mean it's impossible to tell if a comet has crossed our path before, since we're fully capable of extrapolating orbital paths both forward and backward.

Re:Methodological Problem in Summary? (1)

kcwebmonkey (1351779) | about 8 months ago | (#47060287)

Because Earth's orbit didn't intersect with the comet's orbit until recently when Jupiter's gravity altered it. RTFA

Re:Methodological Problem in Summary? (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 8 months ago | (#47060359)

I'm guessing you replied to the wrong person? Because that doesn't contradict anything I said. Rather, I quite agree with it, including the "RTFA" sentiment aimed at the OP.

In very related news (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 8 months ago | (#47057643)

Guaranteed Friday night / Saturday morning cloud cover.

Re:In very related news (1)

tquasar (1405457) | about 8 months ago | (#47058281)

Coastal California, "Night and morning low clouds and fog..." have vexed my seeing for years. I'll drive 45 miles to the local mountains for clear skies.

Heavens Above (2)

tquasar (1405457) | about 8 months ago | (#47058549)

Anyone who has ever looked at the night sky might goto H-A and create an account.The site has much info. I saw the Shuttle chasing the ISS in orbit over my home, many satts like TRMM and China's Tiangong !, spy satts like the Lacrosse series passing by. Most of what can be seen is space junk, rocket bodies and such, some have been in orbit for twenty years. The X37B, seen that too. I was at work and saw Shuttle Columbia on it's fateful re-entry.... RIP brave souls. http://www.heavens-above.com/m... [heavens-above.com] http://www.space.com/25275-x37... [space.com]
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