Monday, May 26, 2014

Camelopardalids Dissapointment

Last time I mentioned I and friend from work were heading up to Mauna Loa to try to catch a possible new meteor shower, the Camelopardalids. The reason I decided on Mauna Loa rather than Mauna Kea is because the radiant of the Camelopardalids was going to be in the constellation of Camelopardalus (the Giraffe), which is right up close to the north celestial pole. The Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea, however, is on the south side of the mountain, meaning the mountain would block out most of our view to the north. Thus, I decided to head up to 11,000 feet on Mauna Loa to the observatories there, which are on the south side.

Getting up to Mauna Loa is an arduous process. Unlike Mauna Kea, with its two-lane paved road to 9,000 feet, Mauna Loa has only a single lane road (though as of two years ago, it is at least paved its entire way). It's over twice as long as its Mauna Kea cousin and winds like a roller coaster for most of its length, so that although the grade is on average much less, you just can't get any speed up with all the twists and turns. Thus it took us almost a full hour to get from Saddle Road to 11,000 feet where we set up just a few minutes before 8 PM when the shower was projected to begin.

Unfortunately, the meteor shower didn't happen. We stayed up for nearly two full hours (the projected time for the shower), and in that entire time I saw three meteors, all of which were random and unrelated to the shower. In my time working at the Visitor Information Center I spent many an evening outside, and three meteors is an entirely typical number to see in that time. From what I've read, no one else really saw anything either. There was one report of people seeing a larger number of meteors than normal, but nothing that would really stand out, and they were offset by the large number of reports similar to mine: nothing out of the ordinary.

Oh, well. In science a null result can often be just as interesting – if not more so – than a positive one. We've learned something, and the theorists will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what. It wasn't the spectacular shower I was hoping for, but if I'm honest it's much closer to what I was expecting (though I was expecting at least a few meteors). It may not have been “the great meteor shower of ‘14,” but there's always next time. Speaking of which, a hui hou!


  1. I remember going out on a very cold January night to look through a very cold telescope at a white, fuzzy dot that was comet Kohoutek. But, hey, I got to see a comet! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


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