Unlike other meteor showers we’re privy to throughout the year, tonight’s (dubbed the Camelopardalid), is unique for one special reason: it’s never happened before.
The meteors set to streak across our sky in the early morning hours are all the dusty remnants of Comet209P/LINEAR, discovered in 2004. With a tight orbit between the sun and Jupiter, (making a trip through our solar system every five years) the Comet’s debris trail has never intersected our planet due to Jupiter’s intense gravitational pull. Until now.
“We don’t know what the meteor shower’s intensity will be,” Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center told the Washington Post. “If Comet 209P/LINEAR was a poor producer of debris, we’ll see nothing. But if the comet was more active 200 or 300 years ago, we’ll see a decent show. What happens this Saturday morning was determined a few hundred years ago.”
Because of this uncertainty, astronomers are pegging tonight’s rate of meteors from 30-70 per hour (a decent shower) to hundreds and, maybe, just maybe, thousands (a downright meteor storm).
Even if the heavens do not fill up with falling stars, there is another cool feature about the Camelopardalids to get excited about: the ones we do see will last for longer than your average shooting star.
“The meteors are going to be pretty slow,” according to Astronomer Carl Hergenrother. “They’re actually going to last maybe for a second or two. It’s going to look almost like slow moving fireworks instead of the usual shooting stars that we’re used to.”
While any dark sky after sunset will offer opportunities to view this shower, astronomers say the peak times will between 2AM and dawn. So get out there – and have fun!
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com