No plans for this evening? Our solar system may have an idea for you. At around 2am EDT (11pm PST) this evening, North America may be in store for a dazzling meteor shower as the Earth passes through debris ejected from the comet 209P/LINEAR.
This ‘dust’ was likely sloughed off 209P/LINEAR during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and is just now intersecting with the Earth’s orbit. If the comet was highly active during those periods, we could be in for a show. The shower is tentatively being called the May Camelopardalids. This name is derived from the expectation that the shower will appear to originate from the constellation Camelopardalis.
H.A. Ray‘s diagram of Camelopardalis’ stars. The word “Camelopardalis” intuitively translates to leopard-camel or ‘giraffe’. This diagram shows the stars which connect to form the giraffe shape that inspired the name.
“Some forecasters have predicted a meteor storm of more than 200 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke on NASA’s website. Cooke is the lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, a department within NASA that is responsible for analyzing the risks that meteors may pose to spacecrafts. “We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s. The parent comet doesn’t appear to be very active now, so there could be a great show, or there could be little activity.”
Scientists at the Marshall Spaceflight Center predict the shower will be active from 10:30pm on May 23 to 7am on May 24 EDT and peak between 2am and 4am EDT on May 24. If you’re in an area of high light pollution or a region of North America that is expecting heavy cloud cover, you may want to check the event out on the NASA website. NASA will be offering a live feed of the event from Huntsville, Alabama and starting at around 11 pm EDT, Bill Cooke will be hosting a live web chat to field any questions you may have.
Which of you North American nerds will be viewing this potentially powerful light show this evening? Do you have faith that your hometown’s light pollution levels are low enough for a good show or will you be tuning in to the NASA website to ensure a good seat? Let us know in the comments section.