A Dearth of Camelopardalids

A possible meteor shower, a dark. moonless night, the beautiful skies of Mauna Kea… Why not plan for a trip up the mountain? We all hoped that the new meteor shower would produce a show for us. If not, it would be a dark night with a late rising crescent moon. As I would be working the holiday on Monday, I took Friday off, did some chores around the house and packed my gear.

Meteor Photo Rig
The mount with four cameras mounted on top hoping for meteors. Photo by Raymond Lara.
I brought two bit of kits with which to enjoy the night. First was my old Losmandy mount to be used as a camera platform. Using a tracking mount would allow longer exposures and nice starfields against which to capture any possible meteors. I had along a long plate with five camera ball mounts, something Chris lent me. As expected, as soon as the others saw this there were plenty of volunteers looking for a spot on one of the mounts. Four cameras rode the mount for the evening, hoping to catch a few meteors.

The second bit of kit was Deep Violet, my 18″ telescope. As usual, setting up the big scope quickly gathered a crowd. The line did not dissipate until well after 10pm, a steady flow of visitors hoping to check out the view in the largest telescope present.

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Comet 209P LINEAR Meteor Shower Reminder

A reminder that there is the possibility of a strong meteor shower this evening. The Earth may pass through a cloud of debris left by comet 209P/LINEAR. Sky watchers should observe around 21:00 to 22:00HST on the evening of May 23rd.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
North America and the North Pacific is favored for visibility. If it occurs the peak will be short and sweet, lasting about an hour. Fortunately for us in the islands this is predicted for mid-evening hours, from 7-8UT on the 24th (21-22HST on the 23rd). Predictions for the shower range from minor to spectacular. The meteors will seem to radiate from a part of the sky occupied by the dim constellation Camelopardalis, thus some are dubbing this shower the Camelopardalids.

For Hawai’i the radiant will be low in the north, about 20 degrees above the horizon, near Polaris. This means that any meteors we see will be hitting the atmosphere at a low angle. Combined with the low speed of the meteors this could lead to very showy bolides streaking across much of the sky.

As with any meteor shower, any predictions are to be taken with a large dose of skepticism. It is important to point out that meteor prediction is not an exact science, rather a bit of an art form. In this case there are any number of unknowns involved, we could see nothing, we could see a true meteor storm. This event could be anything from “meh” to “oh wow!!!”. To their credit, the folks making these predictions have been impressively right on several recent showers.

I would strongly suggest that you at least take an effort to step outside after 9pm on Friday evening and see what the sky has to offer. All you need is a clear dark sky.

A Different Meteor Shower

The meteor wildcard of 2014 is something new. Several meteor experts are predicting a possible shower from comet 209P/LINEAR. The Earth will pass close to the debris stream from this comet in late May this year, possibly creating a decent meteor shower, or even a meteor storm.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
I could write up the whole description, or just let you read a nice summary from the IMO website…

Of greatest potential significance this quarter, indeed this year, is an encounter between the Earth and a number of dust trails left by Comet 209P/LINEAR at its perihelion returns within twenty years to either side of 1900 AD. Several predictions have already been issued for what may occur, and further updates are likely nearer the event. Based on the most recent independent calculations by Esko Lyytinen, Mikhail Maslov and J´er´emie Vaubaillon, the strongest activity from this source should happen on May 24, most likely between about 07h to 08h UT from a radiant near the borders of Lynx, Ursa Major and Camelopardalis, quite close to o UMa. The predicted radiant locations fall within a few degrees of α = 124° , δ = +79° . Timings in UT for the centre of the strongest activity overall are around 07h 03m (Lyytinen), 07h 21m (Maslov) and 07h 40m (Vaubaillon) respectively.

However, much is unknown about this comet, including its dust productivity and even its precise orbit. Consequently, while tentative proposals have been made that ZHRs at best could reach 100+, perhaps up to storm proportions, based purely on the relative approach distances between the Earth and the computed dust trails, these are far from certain. The strongest activity could be short lived too, lasting perhaps between a few minutes to a fraction of an hour only. In addition, the number of dust trails involved means there may be more than one peak, and that others could happen outside the “key hour” period, so observers at suitable locations are urged to be vigilant for as long as possible to either side of the predicted event to record whatever takes place.

Remember, there are no guarantees in meteor astronomy! Lunar observing circumstances are very positive, with May’s new Moon on the 28th. The north-circumpolar radiant area for many sites means the three main geographic zones where most radio observers are located – Europe, North America and Japan – should be able to follow all that occurs, interference permitting. The time of year means the northern nights are close to their shortest for visual and imaging work, but the predicted strongest activity timings fall perfectly for night-time coverage all across North America and the nearby oceans to its east and west.
IMO Website 2014 Calendar

The takeaway from what we know… This shower is highly uncertain, we could get anything from nothing to meteor storm. The peak will be short and sharp, lasting only a few hours. With a peak near 07:00-08:00hUT on May 24th, observers in the Pacific should be alert from 21:00 to 22:00HST on the evening of the 23rd. New Moon occurs on the 28th, indicating there should be no moonlight to contend with.