Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taking In A Meteor Shower: The Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

The Geminid Meteor Shower 2012 (Jeff Dai) @
*UPDATE Friday, May 23 10:53 pm CST: Listening live to the coverage on they are advising to keep an eye out for the show to begin at around 2-4 a.m. Eastern or 1-3 a.m. Central... I really advise listening to the coverage, very intelligent, very informative.

Astronomers are predicting that this Friday and Saturday's Camelopardalids meteor shower may be this year's most extraordinary universal display. Currently the experts are predicting between 100-400 meteors per hour, which is far more than normal showers and dwarfs the most recent Lyrid shower which peaked at a measly 20 or so meteors per hour and we are in a PRIME spot here in the states to take it all in!

Not actually 209E/LINEAR, but you
get the idea... right?
Halleys Comet:
The Camelopardalids meteor shower is brought to you by it's proud momma, a comet named 209P/LINEAR which has a rather melodic sound to it doesn't it? This comet will be streaking near Earth on May 29, blowing us a flame streaking kiss from a scant 8.3 million kilometers away. It's due to this petite (209P/LINEAR is only 600 meters around, slim and trim by comet standards) comet's passing that we will find our Earthly trajectory passing right in her debris field, which is what will actually create this spacial display. The meteors we'll see this year are actually left over interplanetary grains, pebbles, rocks and junk from previous 209P/LINEAR visits, ejected over years from her nucleus. This year we'll find ourselves going through many of her old debris fields and as all of bits and bobs smack our atmosphere here on Earth it burns up, creating those sweet flaming meteors that may make some of us think of Aerosmith.

Easy Step By Step Directions For Viewing Camelopardalids

  1. Pray for a clear night.* Don't pray? Then wish. Don't wish? Then birthday's must stink at your house...
  2. Wait until dark on Friday, May 23. Take note of where the sun set.
  3. Open your front door.
  4. Walk outside.
  5. Put down a blanket and take a seat.
  6. Face where the sun went down.
  7. Turn 90 degrees to your right, it should face you north.
  8. Look up. If you don't see anything, try repeating the steps above every 30 minutes or so.
  9. Commence your thoughts of how small you are in relation to the cosmos or how cute Liv Tyler was in Armageddon as the meteors streak across the sky.
*Didn't get a clear night? Don't worry, you can hop online and watch the show live over on Slooh Community Observatory's webpage. Go ahead and put down your blanket, turn out the lights and pop that cold beverage anyway as you watch.

    More Specific Directions For Viewing Camelopardalids

    For best viewing any meteor shower your should try to get as far away from artificial light sources as possible, so go out and ruin Make Out Point for a night, sending those teens to smooch somewhere else, or just take a drive out from town, find a quiet public place that is open and sit on your hood to enjoy the show (I'm talking about the meteors here, not the smooching teenagers). If the furthest you can roam from home is your own porch or yard, just turn out as many lights as possible and find the darkest area of your own personal space.

    Once you've procured your favorite spot, and perhaps laid down a blanket, or popped a cold beverage it's time to terrify the children with stories of how the meteors are actually brain eating aliens preparing to land, bent on world domination and hungering for the fresh grey matter of children. No, on second thought don't do that last step... Terrifying children, although fun, can have horrible results on their adult lives.

    From Nasa's Image Gallery
    Now, the meteor shower is named Camelopardalids after the relatively obscure constellation of, you guessed it, Camelopardalids or "the giraffe" (you thought camel, didn't you?). Given that this is the first time I've ever heard of this particular constellation, I wanted to get a better bead on exactly where to look for the meteors, and as luck would have it, the giraffe is pretty darn close to that blazing star Polaris, better known as the North Star. So, now I know to find the brightest star in the heavens and fix my gaze that-a-way. However, with the prediction of so many meteors, you should be able to find the most active area relatively easily.

    So, you've waited for dark, found a nice spot, laid down your blanket, popped open a cold beverage and found the brightest star in the sky... What's next? Well, give your eyes a few seconds to adjust, watch for streaks, say ooh and aah, and maybe take a few pictures. Wondering how to take pictures of the meteor shower, well that's a bit out of my wheelhouse, here's a good article though. The last thing to do, and this is completely optional (but I feel very important); have someone else there to revel and marvel in the celestial beauty, wonder and amaze at how distant rocks and debris can put on such a splendid show, seemingly just for you.

    Useless Trivia That May Make You Sound Smart

    Up there a few paragraphs above I told you the meaning of the name Camelopardalids is the giraffe. But, I'm sure that you looked at that name and thought, "How the heck did they get giraffe from Camelopardalids?" Well, here's the skinny and I'm not talking about the knobby knees of the giraffe here. The name camelopardalids is actually Roman, and it comes from their attempt to describe this crazy animal they had found in Africa. This animal, which was "part leopard" and "part camel" became the camelopardalids. As G.I. Joe would say, "knowing is half the battle", use this information tonight to sound super smart as you take in the shower.

    Happy meteoric trails and thanks, as always, for reading!

    More Information

    Slooh Community Observatory Homepage - A great place to watch the meteors, should clouds try to ruin your night.
    Steve's Digicams: Digital Photography 101: How to photograph meteor showers
    Sky and Telescope: Ready for May's Surprise Meteor Shower?
    NASA's Sweet Gallery of Meteor Shower Images - To get you in the mood

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