May 23-24 Meteor Shower Will Be The Year's Most Spectacular
There's a meteor shower brewing this week and there is a good chance that it could be the most spectacular celestial event of the year. On May 24th, Earth will pass through the debris tail of the 600 meter-wide Comet 209P/LINEAR as it sails within 5 million miles of us. This dusty debris will enter our atmosphere at speeds of up to 150,000 mph. The friction caused by these high speeds causes the particles to glow, creating the bright streaks that make a meteor shower such a captivating event.
An image of Comet 209P/LINEAR taken in April by E. Guido, N. Howes and M. Nicolini.
Labelled the Camelopardalids after their occurrence near the Camelopardalis constellation, the meteor shower will peak on the evening of May 23rd to May 24th. Those in the US and Canada will be treated to the most spectacular views and while the predicted meteor rates are less than the initial estimates of 1,000 meteors per hour, predictions currently estimate that anywhere between 100 and 400 meteors will be visible per hour, which is still a truly spectacular rate. Making this event even more spectacular will be the fact that the debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR is estimated to be larger than normal. This means that the streaks in the sky will be burning far brighter than those seen during many other meteor showers.
The awe-inspiring event will be visible across much of the world, but for those in North America, your best chance of witnessing the shower will be at around 3:20am EST. That means it could be a late night for many, but if these predicted rates are accurate, it will be well worth it - besides it's a long weekend for most of you any way.
As for where to look, it's pretty simple. Look Up! The event will be occurring close to the North Pole of the sky, but the direction at which they enter means they'll be visible across vast swathes of the Northern skies. Your best bet of avoiding disappointment and confusion is to study the constellation charts below..
Credit: Sky & Telescope Magazin/AU
Here's a slightly less technical look courtesy of Stellarium. The representation is for those looking North at around 2-3am.
As usual, the darker and clearer your skies are, the more you will see. If you live in the city many of the meteors will still be visible, but if you have friends out in the countryside, it's time to plan a visit because the key to success on May 23-24 will gaining a wide view of dark skies.
Because the event will be happening right above your head, we recommend preparing either a reclining chair or a bunch of blankets so you can lay out as flat as possible to enjoy the show. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast and pay attention to the level of cloud cover expected that night/morning.
Finally, wrap up warm and get some friends over, because these things are always better when they are a shared experience! Happy meteor hunting!