23 May 2014

Marvelous Meteors: A new meteor shower this May

By Marie Powell

(Updated May 24)

A brand new meteor shower occurred in the early morning hours Friday May 23 to Saturday May 24 called the Camelopardalids.

A meteor shower happens when particles from space -- meteors -- pass into the Earth's atmosphere at the same time, or when the Earth passes through a debris trail left behind by a comet. Some people call them "shooting stars." There are several meteor showers every year, like the Perseids pictured here.  This meteor shower is predicted to occur again in August.

Another meteor shower expected to occur on October 21 this year is the Orionids. These small chunks of ice, rock, and minerals were left behind by Haley's Comet. We'll see them again on October 21 this year, according to predictions.

Other meteor showers occur regularly, and some can be predicted at certain times of the year. For example, the Lyrids are formed by debris from Comet Thatcher and can be seen in late April. The intensity or brightness and length of meteor showers vary. Websites like Spacedex offer a list of meteor shower predictions to help flag these dates.

Scientists had predicted the new Camelopardalids meteor shower on May 23-24 would be as strong as the Perseids. The radiant or the point from which it radiates is large, so scientists anticipated it would be a strong and bright meteor shower. It's caused by debris from comet 209P/LINEAR located between the constellations of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, and it's named after the constellation Camelopardalis (the giraffe). Because it had never been seen before, it was difficult to predict exactly when it would appear or how bright it would be, but NASA set up a live feed to view the shower.

As it turned out, the meteor shower disappointed most viewers.  One reported seeing about 10 meteors throughout the night. Here is a round-up of links (and I will add more over the weekend):

"Camelopardalids Meteor Shower Skimpy but Sweet" by Bob King: http://www.universetoday.com/112120/camelopardalid-meteor-shower-skimpy-but-sweet/

Images of the meteor shower:  http://www.crh.noaa.gov/images/arx/meteors_052414_fast.gif

NASA's webcast replay:  http://www.space.com/19195-night-sky-planets-asteroids-webcasts.html 

Twitter followers reported being disappointed, but as one said, it was better to be informed of the event in advance:  https://twitter.com/hashtag/camelopardalids?src=hash

Here are some general links about meteor showers and predictions for the Camelopardalids:

Spacedex's list of predicted dates: http://www.spacedex.com

CBC meteor shower calendar: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/meteor-shower-calendar-1.1311681

NASA's live feed:

NASA's prediction for the Camelopardalids: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/may-camelopardalids.html#.U39cbV6ntfM

International Meteor Organization: http://www.imo.net

IMO's prediction for the Camelopardalids: http://www.imo.net/camelopardalids2014

CBC article with links: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/new-meteor-shower-the-camelopardalids-expected-tonight-1.2650775

Marie Powell is the author of 15 books for children, including Dragonflies are Amazing (Scholastic Canada) and a six-book Word Families series (Amicus Publishing). Her second six-book series is expected this fall, along with two middle-grade books of Canadian history.

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