‘Weak’ New Meteor Shower Due To Fragile Comet Dust

While the Camelopardalid shower only produced a few meteors, the lack of flashy disintegrations showed astronomers something new, a new study reveals: the dust from its parent comet (Comet 209P/Linear) was much more fragile than the usual. The reasons are still being investigated, but one theory is that after a century in space, there wasn’t much left to run into.

“Some mechanism was at work that efficiently fragmented the larger meteoroids,” stated Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer with the SETI Institute who, along with colleague Esko Lyytinen, first predicted the existence of the shower a decade ago.

“Our best meteor was no more luminous than the star Vega,” added Jenniskens, “but it gave us a clue as to why there were few bright ones: It was so fragile that the meteoroid suddenly dispersed into a cloud of dust at the end of its trajectory.”

This ‘weak” shower stands in contrast to two meteor showers that took place out of interactions with comet 21P/Giacobinni-Zinner. This produced meteor “storms” in 1933 and 1946 during the Draconids. That comet was more active and the dust grains that left it likely had a lot of ice in them. Comet 209P/Linear did not have that type of ejection, nor was it very active.

You can read more Universe Today observations of the new shower in this past story.

Source: SETI Institute

More Camelopardalids: Persistent Trains and that Satellite Fuel Dump Cloud

The first ever Camelopardalids Meteor Shower ended up being more of a drizzle than a shower, said astrophotographer John Chumack. “The new shower had very few meteors per hour, I estimated about 8 to 12 per hour, most were faint, but it did produce a few bright ones, as seen captured by my Meteor Video Camera network at my backyard observatory in Dayton Ohio.”

The above image is by Justin Ng who went to Jebel Al Jais mountain near Dubai to capture the meteor shower.

As our own Bob King reported the morning after — with several images and apt descriptions of the shower — the peak activity seem to occur around 2:00am to 4:00am EST (0700 to 900 UT).

There was a lot of buzz about a weird gigantic persistent train that occurred early on (about 1 am EST) and it ended up being a cameo appearance by the Advanced Land Observation Satellite a new Japanese mapping satellite, and a fuel dump from a booster stage of the satellite’s launch vehicle. Read more about it at Bob’s article, and see some images of it below.

Also, see a great video capture of a persistent train, shot by astrophotographer Gavin Heffernan:

We’ve had some more images come in via email and on our Flickr page

Persistent trains are the vaporized remains of the tiny meteoroid. The dust is blown around by upper level winds in Earth’s atmosphere.

Here’s a great time-lapse of the plume from the fuel dump. Astrophotographer Alan Dyer called it a “strange glow of light that moved across the northern sky… What I thought was an odd curtain of slow-moving, colourless aurora — and I’ve seen those before — has many people who also saw it suspecting it was a glow from a fuel dump from an orbiting satellite.

This short time-lapse of 22 frames covers about 22 minutes starting at 11:59 pm MDT on May 23 Each frame is a 60-second exposure taken at 2 second intervals, played back at one frame per second.

A Camelopardolids Meteor on May 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: Stephen Rahn.
A Camelopardolids Meteor on May 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: Stephen Rahn.
Camelopardalids Meteor zips past the Big Dipper and Mars on May 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Camelopardalids Meteor zips past the Big Dipper and Mars on May 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

Here’s a video compilation put together by John Chumack:

Closeup of one frame of a timelapse session containing what appears to be a meteor from the  Camelopardalids meteor shower. Credit and copyright: DaretheHair on Flickr.
Closeup of one frame of a timelapse session containing what appears to be a meteor from the
Camelopardalids meteor shower. Credit and copyright: DaretheHair on Flickr.
An animated gif of the strange ‘cloud’ plume from a fuel dump from the launch of a new Japanese mapping satellite. Credit and copyright: DaretheHair.

We’ll add more images as they come in!

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Camelopardalid Meteor Shower Skimpy but Sweet

So how were the ‘Cams’ by you? Based on a few reports via e-mail and my own vigil of two and a half hours centered on the predicted maximum of  2 a.m. CDT (7 UT) Saturday morning the Camelopardalid meteor shower did not bring down the house. BUT it did produce some unusually slow meteors and (from my site) one exceptional fireball with a train that lasted more than 20 minutes. 

The 'Cam' left a long train across the Milky Way in the Summer Triangle. Credit: Bob King
This ‘Cam’ left a long train across the Milky Way inside the Summer Triangle. Credit: Bob King

I saw 10 meteors in all, most of them slow and colorful with orange and yellow predominating. My hopes were high when the shower started with a bang. At 12:34 CDT, a brilliant, very slow moving meteor flashed below Polaris at about magnitude -1.  A prominent train glowed many seconds after burnout and continued to show for more than 20 minutes in the camera and telescope. At low magnification in my 15-inch reflector (37-cm) the persistent glow looked like a brand new sausage-shaped diffuse nebula in Cassiopeia.

2.5 minute time exposure showing the persistent train left by a near-fireball brightness Camelopardalid meteor. The five bright stars form the familiar 'W' of Cassiopeia. Credit: Bob King
2.5 minute time exposure showing the persistent train left by a brilliant Camelopardalid meteor. The five bright stars to the right outline the familiar ‘W’ of Cassiopeia. Credit: Bob King

Trains form when a meteoroid’s hypersonic velocity through the upper atmosphere ionizes the air along the object’s path. When the atoms return to their rest states, they release that pent up energy  as a glowing streak of light that gradually fades. The train in the photos expands and changes shape depending on the vagaries of upper atmospheric winds. Absolutely fascinating to watch.

Pretty scene with the Big Dipper (upper left), a lake and a 'Cam' taken from Sudbury, Canada. Credit: Bill Longo
Lovely scene with the Big Dipper (upper left) and a ‘Cam’ taken from Sudbury, Canada. Credit: Bill Longo

Most activity occurred between 12:30 and 2 a.m. for my time zone in the U.S. Midwest. Surprisingly, the action dropped off around 2 and stayed that way until 3. I did get one ‘farewell Cam’ on that last look up before turning in for the night.

Malcolm Park of Toronto captured a bright Camelopardalid this morning.
Malcolm Park of Toronto captured a bright Camelopardalid this morning.

The team working with Gianluca Masi at the Virtual Telescope Project reported a number of bright meteors as well but no storm. We share several of their photos here. As more information comes in, please drop by for a more complete report. You can also check out Dirk Ross’s Latest Worldwide Meteor News for additional first hand reports.

The strange streak with a moving satellite (?) at its center than drifted from Leo to Auriga early this morning. The starlike object makes a narrower streak inside the cloud during the time exposure. Credit: Bob King
The strange streak with a moving satellite (?) at its center that drifted from Leo to Auriga early this morning. The starlike object made a narrower streak inside the cloud during the time exposure. Credit: Bob King

Before signing off for the moment, I’d like to ask your help in explaining a strange phenomenon I saw while out watching and photographing the shower. Around 1 a.m. I looked up and noticed a comet-like streak about 15-degrees long drifting across northern Leo. My first thought was meteor train – a giant one – but then I noticed that the center of the streak was brighter and contained a starlike object that moved in tandem with the wispy glow. I quickly took a couple pictures as the streak traveled north and expanded into a large, nebulous ray that persisted for about 1o minutes. There were no other clouds in the sky and the aurora was not active at the time.

Photo taken a couple minutes after the first one showing the expanding ray. The starlike object is the brighter trail within the ray near bottom. Credit: Bob King
Photo taken a couple minutes after the first one showing the expanding ray. The starlike object is the brighter trail within the ray near bottom. Credit: Bob King

Can anyone shed light on what it was??

UPDATE: According Mike McCants, satellite tracking software developer, the plume is fuel dump connected to the launch of a new Japanese mapping satellite. One never knows sometimes what the night has in store.

 

Weekly Space Hangout – May 23, 2014: How Do You Say “Camelopardalids?”

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Guests: David Dickinson (@astroguyz, www.astroguyz.com), Alessondra Springmann (@sondy), Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @cosmic_chatter) & Mike Simmons (Astronomers without Borders)

This Week’s Stories:
Possible Meteor Storm
Starlight Festival
ISEE-3 space act/reboot/amp arrived
Dream Chaser wind tunnel tests
Mars crater discovered
Atlas Launch
Mars Crater Seen Before/After

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Google+, Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page.

Potential Weekend Meteor Shower Will Pelt the Moon Too!

If the hoped-for meteor blast materializes this Friday night / Saturday morning (May 23-24) Earth won’t be the only world getting peppered with debris strewn by comet 209P/LINEAR. The moon will zoom through the comet’s dusty filaments in tandem with us.

Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Officealerts skywatchers to the possibility of lunar meteorite impacts starting around 9:30 p.m. CDT Friday night through 6 a.m. CDT (2:30-11 UTC) Saturday morning with a peak around 1-3 a.m. CDT (6-8 UTC). 

While western hemisphere observers will be in the best location, these times indicate that European and African skywatchers might also get a taste of the action around the start of the lunar shower. And while South America is too far south for viewing the Earth-directed Camelopardalids, the moon will be in a good position to have a go at lunar meteor hunting. Find your moonrise time HERE.

Earlier lunar impact on the earthlit portion of the moon. Credit: NASA
Earlier lunar impact on the earthlit portion of the moon recorded by video camera. Credit: NASA

The thick crescent moon will be well-placed around peak viewing time for East Coast skywatchers, shining above Venus in the eastern sky near the start of morning twilight. For the Midwest, the moon will just be rising at that hour, while skywatchers living in the western half of the country will have to wait until after maximum for a look:

“Anyone in the U.S. should monitor the moon until dawn,” said Cooke, who estimates that impacts might shine briefly at magnitude +8-9.

Any meteors hitting the moon will also be burning up as meteors in Earth's skies from the direction of the dim constellation Camelopardalis the Giraffe located in the northern sky below Polaris in the Little Dipper. Stellarium
Any meteors hitting the moon will also be burning up as meteors in Earth’s skies from the direction of the dim constellation Camelopardalis the Giraffe located in the northern sky below Polaris in the Little Dipper. Stellarium

“The models indicate the Camelopardalids have some big particles but move slowly around 16 ‘clicks’ a second (16 km/sec or 10 miles per second). It all depends on kinetic energy”, he added. Kinetic energy is the energy an object possesses due to its motion. Even small objects can pack a wallop if they’re moving swiftly.


Bright lunar meteorite impact recorded on video on September 11, 2013. The estimated 900-lb. space rock flared to 4th magnitude.

Lunar crescents are ideal for meteor impact monitoring because much of the moon is in shadow, illuminated only by the dim glow of earthlight. Any meteor strikes stand out as tiny flashes against the darkened moonscape. For casual watching of lunar meteor impacts, you’ll need a 4-inch or larger telescope magnifying from 40x up to around 100x. Higher magnification is unnecessary as it restricts the field of view.

I can’t say how easy it will be to catch one, but it will require patience and a sort of casual vigilance. In other words, don’t look too hard. Try to relax your eyes while taking in the view. That’s why the favored method for capturing lunar impacts is a video camera hooked up to a telescope set to automatically track the moon. That way you can examine your results later in the light of day. Seeing a meteor hit live would truly be the experience of a lifetime. Here are some additional helpful tips.

Meteorite impact flashes seen from 2005 to the present. Fewer are seen in the white areas (lunar highlands) because flashes blend in compared to those occurring on the darker lunar 'seas' or maria. Credit: NASA
Meteorite impact flashes seen from 2005 to the present. Fewer are recorded in the white areas (lunar highlands) because the flashes blend into the landscape compared to those occurring on the darker lunar ‘seas’ or maria. Click for more information on lunar impacts. Credit: NASA

On average, about 73,000 lbs. (33 metric tons) of meteoroid material strike Earth’s atmosphere every day with only tiny fraction of it falling to the ground as meteorites. But the moon has virtually no atmosphere. With nothing in the way, even small pebbles strike its surface with great energy. It’s estimated that a 10-lb. (5 kg) meteoroid can excavate a crater 30 feet (9 meters) across and hurl 165,000 lbs. of lunar soil across the surface.

A meteoroid that size on an Earth-bound trajectory would not only be slowed down by the atmosphere but the pressure and heat it experienced during the plunge would ablate it into very small, safe pieces.

NASA astronomers are just as excited as you and I are about the potential new meteor shower. If you plan to take pictures or video of meteors streaking through Earth’s skies or get lucky enough to see one striking the moon, please send your observations / photos / videos to Brooke Boen ([email protected]) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Scientists there will use the data to better understand and characterize this newly born meteor blast.

On the night of May 23-24, Bill Cooke will host a live web chat from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EDT with a view of the skies over Huntsville, Alabama. Check it out.

 

 

Can You Say Camelopardalids? Observing, Weather Prospects and More for the May 24th Meteor Shower

It could be the best of meteor showers, or it could be the…

Well, we’ll delve into the alternatives here in a bit. For now, we’ll call upon our ever present astronomical optimism and say that one of the best meteor showers of 2014 may potentially be on tap for this weekend.

This is a true wild card event. The meteor shower in question hails from a periodic comet 209P LINEAR discovered in 2004 and radiates from the obscure and tongue-twisting constellation of Camelopardalis.

But whether you call ‘em the “209/P-ids,” the “Camelopardalids,” or simply the “Cams,” this weekend’s meteor shower is definitely one worth watching out for. The excitement surrounding this meteor shower came about when researchers Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen noticed that the Earth would cross debris streams laid down by the comet in 1803 and 1924. Discovered by the LIncoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) automated all-sky survey located at White Sands, New Mexico, comet 209P LINEAR orbits the Sun once every 5.1 years. 209P LINEAR passed perihelion at 0.97 AUs from the Sun this month on May 6th.

Starry Night
Looking north from latitude +30N at 7:00 UT on the morning of May 24th. Created using Starry Night.

The meteor shower peaks this coming U.S. Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, May 24th. The expected peak is projected for right around 7:00 Universal Time (UT) which is the early morning hours of 3:00 AM EDT, giving North America a possible front row seat to the event. Estimates for the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of the Camelopardalids run the gamut from a mild 30 to an outstanding 400 per hour. Keep in mind, this is a shower that hasn’t been witnessed, and it’s tough enough to forecast the timing and activity of known showers. It’s really a question of how much debris the 1803 and 1924 streams laid down on those undocumented passages. One possible strike against a “meteor storm” similar to the 1998 Leonids that we witnessed from Kuwait is the fact that the “Cams” have never been recorded before. Still, you won’t see any if you don’t try!

Cams
The orientation of the Earth, the day/night terminator, the Sun, Moon and radiant of the meteor shower on May 24th at 7:00 UT. Created by author.

Comet 209P/LINEAR passes 0.055 AUs — about 8.3 million kilometres — from the Earth on May 29th, shining at +11th magnitude and crossing south into the constellation of Leo Minor in late May. Interestingly, it also passes 0.8 degrees from asteroid 2 Pallas on May 26th. Though tiny, comet 209P/LINEAR’s 2014 passage ranks as the 9th closest recorded approach of a comet to the Earth.

209/P LINEAR
A recent image of comet 209/P LINEAR. credit: The Virtual Telescope Project.

The Moon is also at an ideal phase for meteor watching this coming weekend as it presents a waning crescent phase just 4 days from New and rises at around 4:00 AM local.

The expected radiant for the Cams sits at Right Ascension 8 hours and  declination 78 degrees north in the constellation of Camelopardalis, the “camel leopard…” OK, we’ve never seen such a creature, either. (Read “giraffe”). Unfortunately, this puts the radiant just 20 degrees above the northern horizon as seen from +30 degrees north latitude here in Florida at 7:00 UT. Generally speaking, the farther north you are, the higher the radiant will be in the sky and the better your viewing prospects are. Canada and the northern continental United States could potentially be in for a good show. Keep in mind too, the high northern declination of the radiant means that it transits the meridian (crosses upper culmination) a few hours before sunset Friday night at 6 PM local; this means it’ll have an elevation of about 38 degrees above the horizon as seen from 30 degrees north latitude just after sunset. It may well be worth watching for early activity after dusk!

Weather
A look ahead at the cloud cover prospects for the morning of May 24th. Credit: NOAA.

Clouded out or live on the wrong side of the planet to watch the Camelopardalids? Slooh will be carrying a live broadcast of the event starting at 3:00 PM PDT/ 6:00 PM EDT/ 22:00 UT. Also, the folks at the Virtual Telescope Project  will carry two separate webcasts of the event, one featuring the progenitor comet 209P LINEAR starting at 20:00 UT on May 22nd and another featuring the meteor shower itself starting at 5:30 UT on May 24th.

Observing meteors is fun and easy and requires nothing more than a good pair of “mark-1 eyeballs” and patience. And although the radiant may be low to the north, meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. We like to keep a pair of binocs handy to examine any lingering smoke trains left by bright fireballs. Counting the number of meteors you see from your location and submitting this estimate to the International Meteor Organization may help in ongoing efforts to understand this first time meteor shower. And capturing an image of a meteor is as simple as setting a DSLR on a tripod with a wide field of view and taking time exposures of the sky… something you can start practicing tonight.

P_20140518_110518
Our humble meteor observing rig… (Photo by author).

Don’t miss what could well be the astronomical event of the year… I’d love to see a meteor shower named after an obscure constellation such as the #Camelopardalids trending. And we fully expect to start fielding reports of “strange rocks falling from the sky” this week, which the cometary dust that composes a meteor shower isn’t. In fact, Meteorite Man Geoffrey Notkin once noted that no confirmed meteorite fall has ever been linked to a periodic meteor shower.

Don’t miss the celestial show!

-Got pics of the Camelopardalids? Send ‘em to Universe Today. There’s a good chance that we’ll run an after-action photo-round up if the Cams kick it into high gear.

-Read more about the Camelopardalids here in a recent outstanding post by Bob King on Universe Today.

 

May Meteor Storm Alert: All Eyes on the Sky!

On Friday night/early Saturday May 23-24 skywatchers across the U.S. and southern Canada may witness the birth of a brand new meteor shower.  If predictions hold true, Earth will pass through multiple tendrils of dust and pebbly bits left behind by comet 209P/LINEAR, firing up a celestial display on par with the strongest showers of the year. Or better.

Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute, who predicted a possible meteor storm associated with comet 209P/LINEAR. Credit: NASA
Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute, who predicted a possible meteor storm associated with comet 209P/LINEAR. Credit: NASA

Earlier predictions called for a zenithal hourly rate or ZHR of 1,000 per hour, pushing this shower into the ‘storm’ category. ZHR is an idealized number based on the shower radiant located at the zenith under ideal skies. The actual number is lower depending on how far the radiant is removed from the zenith and how much light pollution or moonlight is present. Meteor expert Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and Finland’s Esko Lyytinen first saw the possibility of a comet-spawned meteor storm and presented their results in Jenniskens’ 2006 book Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets.

Approximate location of the radiant of the 209P/LINEAR shower at the peak of the brief maximum around 2 a.m. CDT May 24. Between 100-400 meteors may radiate from the dim constellation of Camelopardalis near the North Star. This map shows the sky from Des Moines, Iowa. Created with Stellarium
Approximate location of the radiant (blue) of the 209P/LINEAR shower at the peak of the brief maximum around 2 a.m. CDT May 24. Between 100-400 meteors may radiate from the dim constellation of Camelopardalis near the North Star. This map shows the sky from the central U.S. Created with Stellarium

Quanzhi Ye and Paul Wiegert  (University of Western Ontario) predict a weaker shower because of a decline in the comet’s dust production rate based on observations made during its last return in 2009. They estimate a rate of ~200 per hour.

On the bright side, their simulations show that the comet sheds larger particles than usual, which could mean a shower rich in fireballs. Other researchers predict rates between 200 and 40o per hour. At the very least, the Camelopardalids – the constellation from which the meteors will appear to originate – promise to rival the Perseids and Geminids, the year’s richest showers. Motivation for setting the alarm clock if there ever was.

Comet 209P/LINEAR on April 14, 2014. It’s currently very faint at around magnitude 17. Material shed by the comet during passes between 1898-1919 may spawn a rich meteor shower overnight May 23-24. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes, Martino Nicolini
Comet 209P/LINEAR on April 14, 2014. It’s currently very faint at around magnitude +17. Material shed by the comet during passes from 1898-1919 is expected to contribute to a May 23-24 shower. Credit: Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes, Martino Nicolini

Comet 209P/LINEARdiscovered in Feb. 2004 by the automated Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) sky survey, orbits the sun every 5.04 years with an aphelion (most distant point from the sun) near Jupiter. In 2012, during a relatively close pass of that planet, Jupiter perturbed its orbit, bringing it to within 280,000 miles (450,000 km) of Earth’s orbit.

That set up a remarkably close encounter with our planet on May 29 when 209P will cruise just 5 million miles (8 million km) from Earth to become the  9th closest comet ever observed. Multiple debris trails shed by the comet as long ago as the 18th century will intersect our planet’s path 5 days earlier, providing the material for the upcoming meteor shower/storm.

Shining meekly around magnitude +17 at the moment, 209P/LINEAR could brighten to magnitude +11 as it speeds from the Big Dipper south to Hydra during the latter half of May. Closer to the BIG night, we’ll provide helpful maps for you to track it down in your telescope. Cool to think that both the shower and its parent comet will be on display at the same time.

The shaded area shows where the shower will be visible on May 23-24. North of the red line, the moon (a thick crescent) will be up during shower maximum around 2:10 a.m. CDT. Credit: Mikhail Maslov
The shaded area shows where the shower will be visible on May 23-24. North of the red line, the moon (a thick crescent) will be up during shower maximum around 2:10 a.m. CDT. Credit: Mikhail Maslov

The shower’s expected to last only a few hours from about 12:40-3:50 a.m. CDT with the best viewing locations in the U.S. and southern half of Canada. This is where the radiant will be up in a dark sky at peak activity. A thick crescent moon rises around 3-3:30 a.m. but shouldn’t pose a glare problem.

Meteors from 209P/LINEAR are expected to be bright and slow with speeds around 40,000 mph compared to an average of 130,000 mph for the Perseids. Most shower meteoroids are minute specks of rock, but the Camelopardalids contain a significant number of particles larger than 1mm – big enough to spark  fireballs.

The dark streak is a series of filaments of dust and grit left behind by 209P/LINEAR mostly between 1803 and 1924 that Earth (shown on path) will pass through on May 23-24, 2014. Credit:
The dark “finger” represents streams of dust and rocks left behind by 209P/LINEAR during passes made from 1803 to 1924. Earth is shown intersecting the debris on May 23-24, 2014. Credit: Dr. Jeremie Vaubaillon

The farther north you live in the shaded area on the map, the higher the radiant stands in the northern sky and the more meteors you’re likely to see. Skywatchers living in the Deep South will see fewer shooting stars, but a greater proportion will be earthgrazers, those special meteors that skim the upper atmosphere and flare for an unusually long time before fading out.

To see the shower at its best, find a dark place with an open view to the north. Plan your viewing between 12:30 and 4 a.m. CDT (May 24), keeping the 2 a.m. forecast peak in mind. Maximum activity occurs around 3 a.m. Eastern, 1 a.m. Mountain and midnight Pacific  time.

No one’s really certain how many meteors will show, but I encourage you to make the effort to see what could be a spectacular show.