Early on Saturday morning, May 24th, 2014, just as the Memorial Day holiday weekend begins, there’s a chance that a new and very significant meteor shower could take place and pepper our skies with comet debris in the form of bright meteors streaking from out of the northern sky.
The progenitor of this possible display is comet 209P/LINEAR, a tiny periodic comet discovered in 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project (“LINEAR”). This comet takes roughly five years to circle the Sun and now several reputable meteor scientists agree that Earth is on a collision course with a number of dusty trails of debris shed by 209P/LINEAR, which may cause an outburst of meteor activity this month.
Computer simulations show all the trails of dust ejected by this comet falling directly in the Earth’s path on May 24. As a consequence, an unusually strong meteor display appears to be a possibility.
But just how much dust has the comet released into space is questionable. Two astronomers at the University of Western Ontario, Quanzhi Ye and Paul Wiegert, find the comet is relatively depleted in dust production and might only produce a handful of bright meteors. Meanwhile, French astronomer, Jérémie Vaubailion is forecasting anywhere from 100 to 400 “shooting stars” per hour, while two other meteor sleuths, Mikhail Maslov (Russia) and Esko Lytinnen (Finland) think that a full-blown meteor storm of up to 1,000 per hour cannot be discounted.
Included here below is Vaubailion’s computer simulation as to what is expected to happen.
We see the path of the Earth through space running along a brown line going from upper left to lower right. “+” shows the Earth’s location on May 24 (24/5) and May 25 (25/5). The black smear that crosses the Earth’s path roughly one-third of the way from May 24 to 25 is where the more than two-dozen trails of dust left in the comet’s wake are predicted to be, with the Earth expected to go right through all of them.
The meteors are predicted to dart from the direction of the dim constellation of Camelopardalis, the Giraffe for a few hours centered on May 24th, at around 3:00 a.m. EDT (or 12 midnight PDT). That means that the United States and Southern Canada will be in the best position to see whatever activity occurs, since it will be taking place in a dark sky between midnight and dawn. Camelopardalis will be situated low in the north-northwest sky below and slightly to the left of Polaris (the North Star). So the meteors will appear to be shooting up from out of the northern part of the sky. The moon will be a waning crescent, just four days from its dark “new” phase, and will be of little or no hindrance for prospective observers.
All we need is a clear sky. I will leave that up to our own Caleb Weatherbee.