/ Science / Tonight, look to the sky for a genuine meteor storm

Tonight, look to the sky for a genuine meteor storm

Andrea on May 24, 2014 - 9:37 pm in Science
meteor storm head
Good thing it’s a Friday! Astronomy buffs and cool-sight lovers across the Northern hemisphere will be staying up past their bedtimes tonight to watch a meteor shower projected to break records for the sheer number of shooting stars. Called Camelopardalids, some scientists are predicting as much as 1,000 visible meteors per hour — a figure which, if true, would make this a full-blown meteor storm. Depending on your time zone this will occur at the very end of May 23rd or in the very early hours of May 24. The storm should peak between 2a.m. and 4a.m. Eastern time (11p.m. to 1a.m. Pacific time) but could flare up at any time, all night. All of this is weather permitting, of course.

The giraffe constellation should let you orient yourself in the sky, tonight.

To see the event, NASA recommends you look straight at the North Star and then try to find the faint Camelopardalids constellation, shaped like a giraffe. This consolation is the “radiant point” for the shower, meaning that the meteors will seem to emanate from that area of the sky. This is why the two share a name, and though in reality this is just an effect of perspective, it will still help would-be star gazers to find the event they’re looking for. Not that finding Camelopardalids should be hard; even conservative estimates put the number of likely meteors at 100-400 per hour, or roughly one every 10 seconds!

The reason we’ll get to see so many meteors all at once is that the comet which produced them, 209P/LINEAR, is passing very close to the Earth. As a result, the Earth will pass through more than one of its debris-paths simultaneously, and will be pelted rather unforgivingly as a result. The comet is actually rather small, only around 600 meters in diameter, but with a zippy 5-year orbit around the sun it still leaves a thick, slug-like trail of ice and rock through space.

209P/LINEAR has had a long route, but this time it's passing very close to Earth.

When those rocks and ice crystals hit our atmosphere, they burn up because the friction of entry ignites flammable gasses like ozone. This atmospheric burn vaporizes the vast majority of meteors long before they hit the ground — but that doesn’t mean we can’t see and enjoy them first! It’s rather incredible that a chuck of rock smaller than a meter across could create a fireball big enough to be visible across half of the globe.

Source: Science – Geek.com

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