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May Camelopardalids, We Hardly Saw You

| May 27, 2014
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Proof that the Camelopardalids were real: a composite time-lapse taken near Lake Erie, with the International Space Station accounting for the bright streak at the  image's center. (Malcolm Park/North York Astronomical Association)

Proof that the Camelopardalids were real: a composite time-lapse taken near Lake Erie, with the International Space Station accounting for the bright streak at the image’s center. (Malcolm Park/North York Astronomical Association)

It’s a shame about the May Camelopardalids. This year’s most-hyped potential meteor shower didn’t pan out, to the chagrin and oft-tweeted plaints of the multitudes who stayed up late Friday and early Saturday to scan the heavens for possible fireworks.

The reason so many were watching was the mere suggestion that the Camelopardalids — here’s how to say that — could be an event on par with the unforgettable 2001 Leonids. With the vision of that meteor storm in my memory, I stayed up in a Berkeley backyard to see exactly zero meteors over a 90-minute period. I know a few people who say they saw one or two meteors, possible Camelopardalids, but nothing more than that.

But I did get something out of it. First off, a reacquaintance with the summer constellations as the climbed into the midnight sky. Hercules and Bootes, how ya doin’?

Second, I’ve come across some beautiful technology-assisted images of the Camelopardalids sky show. We’re partial to the picture above, shot by Toronto photographer Malcolm Park. Click on that image for a larger version, which shows three short meteor trails emerging pretty closely from the shower’s radiant point in the contellation Camelopardalis. Also featured: a nice bright pass of the International Space Station.

Third and last: A reminder of how much we don’t know about our cosmic neighborhood. One of the reasons astronomers were excited by the May Camelopardalids was the fact they simply didn’t know what to expect. As NASA said last week, astronomers don’t know much about the relatively recently discovered Comet 209P/LINEAR or the debris trail it has left behind — the potential source of the Camelopardalids shower. So, the very fact the meteors were a no-show provided valuable information to those studying the solar system.

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Category: Science

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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