Astronomer Await a Possible New Meteor Shower
14 May 2014

This image shows a meteor shower as seen from space

Credit: NASA

A meteor shower is a fascinating astronomical phenomenon, in which meteors appear to streak from one point on the sky, known as the radiant. A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through a stream of cosmic dust ejected by a comet. Many meteor showers occur annually, but a few ones are strong, featuring a high number of meteors. Interestingly, astronomers expect there could be a new meteor shower, never observed before, on the morning of 24 May 2014.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation which contains the radiant. The new possible shower is known as the May Camelopardalids, as its radiant lies in the constellation Camelopardalis, The Giraffe. It is caused by dust from Comet 209P/LINEAR. The Camelopardalids could be strong, rivaling the well-known Perseids shower, which occurs in August. 

Some meteor forecasters have predicted a rate of over 200 Camelopardalids meteors per hour, according to Dr. Bill Cooke, Head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO). MEO operates a network of automated meteor observatories, across the USA, to photograph and record any space object that penetrates Earth’s atmosphere.   

Comet 209P/LINEAR was discovered in February 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project. It is a relatively faint comet that traverses Earth’s orbit, once every five years, as it approaches the Sun.  

Two years ago, meteor experts Esko Lyytinen and Peter Jenniskens announced that Earth was moving toward a stream of debris ejected by Comet 209P/LINEAR. They concluded that a meteor outburst could take place on 24 May 2014. 

The best time to observe the Camelopardalids is most likely between 6:00 and 08:00 Universal Time, on 24 May, when Earth will most likely be moving through the comet's debris. North America, where the peak of the shower occurs during the night, while the radiant is high in the sky, is favored. But meteor outbursts could lag or advance the forecast by several hours. 

In case the forecast was not fulfilled, there is a wonderful substitute. On the morning of 24 May, the crescent Moon and Venus will be close together in the sky, offering a beautiful view and a photography opportunity.

NASA Science

Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem
Senior Astronomy Specialist
News Center

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