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Meteor storm could light up the sky tonight

TNS Regional News • May 23, 2014 at 9:56 AM

It’s a super new meteor shower – the Camelopardalids. If you have trouble with the pronunciation, just say “giraffe.”

Yes, the giraffe meteors may light up the sky early Saturday when Earth – for the first time – crosses a debris trail left by Comet LINEAR in the 1800s. Then again, they may not.    

Early predictions said the encounter could produce a meteor storm of up to 1,000 shooting stars an hour, according to earthsky.org. Recent estimates say 200 an hour is more likely. Pessimists say it could be a bust.

It all depends on how much dust the comet dropped in the 1800s, astronomers say, because that’s what created the debris trail. If the weather is clear, you can find out for yourself. Best viewing is predicted to be between 2 and 4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on May 24, but lesser numbers of meteors should also be visible before and after those hours.

No one really knows, because Earth has never crossed this trail before. LINEAR was discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project, hence the name. NASA says the comet circles the sun about every five years, but the stars have never aligned for the planet to pass through the dust and debris left behind.

Until now.

Meteors, if there are any, will appear to come from the faint constellation Camelopardalis, which is near the North Star. Earthsky.org says the name comes from the early Romans, who described a creature with the long legs and neck of a camel, and the spots of a leopard. Cross your fingers for clear skies – and watch for falling giraffes.

Tonight's forecast for the Norwalk, Ohio area calls for mostly clear skies, with a low around 50.

Earth is a great location for viewing meteor showers throughout the year. Indeed, you won’t find another planet that’s better. As always, a dark-sky location is best.

For your late-night/early-morning enjoyment, here's a viewing guide (with help from earthsky.org) to meteor showers for the rest of 2014.

Delta Aquarids:  We’ll start with the Delta Aquarids because they’re up next – late July and early August – but they’re best seen from the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics. Diehard meteor watchers can look toward a star named Delta in the constellation Aquarius. The Delta Aquarids usually max out at 15 to 20 meteors an hour, and most are pretty faint.

There is no real peak outburst for this shower. If you want to take your chances, try looking around the dates of July 28-30.

Perseids: Lots of people watch the Perseids. One reason for that is warm weather. Another is the long-lasting trails these meteors can leave behind.

Look for a maximum of 50 to 100 meteors an hour in the early morning before dawn on Aug. 10 to 13. They’re named for their radiant point in the constellation Perseus the Hero, but they can appear in any part of the sky.

Draconids: For those who have trouble waking up in the wee hours, the Draconids are your meteor shower.

They’re best viewed from sunset to midnight, radiating from Draco the Dragon. But to offset the convenient hour, this meteor shower can be disappointing, with only a few per hour.

Astronomers are fond of saying, though, “Watch out if the Dragon awakes!” In some years, the Draconids produce hundreds of meteors an hour. If you want to try your luck, Oct. 7 and 8 are your viewing dates. Unfortunately, the moon will be full, making faint meteors harder to see.

Orionids: The Orionids sometimes produce bright fireballs among the average of 10 to 20 meteors per hour. They will appear to radiate from the club of the hunter Orion. Viewing is predicted to be best between midnight and dawn on Oct. 21.

Taurids: The Taurids are always a gamble, but sometimes there’s a big payoff. This shower only provides a few meteors per hour, but those are sometimes fireballs. Peak viewing of the South Taurids is expected to be in the early morning of Nov. 5, and the North Taurids around midnight on Nov. 11-12. But these meteors, that appear to come from Taurus the Bull, can pop up anytime between late September and Dec. 2. A bright moon will interfere with viewing on this year’s peak nights.

Leonids: The Leonids produced some spectacular meteor storms in the early 2000s, but they’ve tapered off. This year is expected to be average, with 10 to 15 meteors per hour in dark-sky locations. Radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion, the shower is predicted to be best between midnight and dawn on Nov. 17 and 18.

Geminids: The year’s last meteor shower is also one of the most convenient. The Geminids can be viewed from about 9 p.m. until dawn, with the peak expected on Dec. 12-14. They’ll fall at a rate of 50 to 100 per hour at the peak. In the past, the shower has produced some bright meteors.

This shower radiates from the constellation Gemini the Twins.


By Diane Tennant - The Virginian-Pilot (MCT)

©2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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