May 23rd 2014: ANTICIPATION BUILDS FOR TONIGHT’S METEOR SHOWER
Earth won’t be the only body passing through the debris zone. The Moon will be, too. Meteoroids hitting the lunar surface could produce explosions visible through backyard telescopes on Earth. The inset in this picture of an actual lunar meteor shows the region of the crescent Moon on May 24th that could be pelted by May Camelopardalids
This weekend, Earth will pass through a stream of debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR. If forecasters are correct, the encounter could produce an outburst of bright meteors numbering more than 200 per hour. Most models agree that peak rates should occur between the hours of 0600 UT and 0800 UT (2 a.m. and 4 a.m. EDT) on Saturday morning, May 24th, a time frame that favors observers in North America. It is worth noting, however, that Earth has never encountered this stream of debris before, so forecasters cannot be certain of their predictions. The display could be a complete dud, a fantastic “meteor storm,” or anything in between. Whatever happens, NASA plans to chat about it.
“Peaking at a magnitude of -2 (Mars brightness), our now-extinct visitor was about 3.3 cm in diameter – a little smaller than a ping pong ball,” continues Cooke. “We believe it was a May Camelopardalid because it had an orbit that greatly resembles that of parent Comet 209P/LINEAR.” The diagram, below, shows the match:
“So why is this good?” asks Cooke. “Looking back to 2012, our computer models show very little comet debris near Earth. We predicted nothing, yet got one meteor. Does this mean that a legion of his siblings will show up this year, when the models suggest the potential of a full-fledged meteor outburst? I’m getting excited about Friday night/Saturday morning.”