Friday, May 23, 2014

(Shooting) Star Warnings: A New Shower

I've been asked a few times this week about "the big meteor shower on Friday," but truth be told, I hadn't paid it much attention. I don't usually pay much attention to meteor showers, partly because they've always felt like an established part of the cycle of things – if I miss the Perseids this year, I can always catch them again next year, after all.

I changed my tune a bit when I came across an article this morning describing tonight's shower as a new shower. It's supposed to come about from the comet 209P/LINEAR, and will be supposedly the first time the earth will come in contact with the cast-off streams of debris this old comet sloughed off on every trip around between 1803 and 1924. (The comet has an orbital period of 5.09 years, which suggests it took about 24.8 trips around this sun in that time.)

Anyway, the salient point is that according to calculations there should be a shower of meteors from 209P/LINEAR between 6 and 8 UTC May 24th. This works out to be a very nice 8-10PM the previous (Friday) night here in Hawai'i; for the West Coast it'll be 11PM Friday night through 1AM Saturday morning; and for the East Coast it'll be 2-4AM.

The interesting thing is that this shower is calculated to be visible almost exclusively from North America and Hawai'i. This is partly due to the fact that its radiant – the location on the sky which all the meteor trails trace back to, and from which they all appear to radiate from – is in the far-northern constellation Camelopardalis. Following the tradition for naming meteor showers, the new showed has thus been termed the Camelopardalids.

Camelopardalis (meaning "giraffe") is a fairly modern constellation (created in 1612 or 1613) made up of a number of faint stars very close to the north celestial pole. It borders upon Ursa Minor, which contains Polaris, the North Star. Finding Camelopardalis will be rather difficult if you have any kind of light pollution system, but luckily since the radiant is so close to Polaris you can locate it to a good approximation by simply facing north. Although, it should be noted, sometimes it's better to watch a meteor shower by facing away from the radiant so that you catch the meteors that glance through the atmosphere (and thus produce long impressive trails) rather than the ones that punch into it head on (and thus make only short trails). So you might have more luck facing south, then lying down and looking up.

I don't know if this post will give enough time for you to prepare to watch the shower, but I thought I'd put it up quick in case it helps someone. I'm planning on heading up Mauna Loa to try to catch it and maybe even get some pictures, if it turns out to be good. That's the excitement of a new shower; no one knows how good it'll be. The best meteor showers, currently, are the Leonids in November and the Perseids in August, which can have up to 80 meteors per hours. This new shower has been predicted to have anywhere from 30 per hour (fairly weak, but noticeable) to a stunning 1,000 per hour. Given how these predictions tend to go, it will probably be a decent shower, but nothing spectacular (personally I doubt it'll be more than ~80 per hour or so) – but there's always that chance, that tiny chance that it will turn out to be something spectacular. And given that I don't need to get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to see it, I'm going to take that chance and see what happens. I'll have another post up soon detailing how it turned out. A hui hou!


  1. Now you've given me another reason to wish I was in Hawaii. I live much too close to Chicago. The drive I'd have to make and the time of night just wouldn't work for me. I'll look forward to your report.

    1. Well, as you can see in my next post, you didn't miss anything. I saw three meteors in two hours, none of them related to the shower. So don't worry, your time was better spent. =)


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