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A New Meteor Shower in May? May 21, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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There may be a new meteor shower in May this year.

Comet 209P/LINEAR has been leaving a debris stream near Earth’s orbit for over a century now, but this year for the first time the Earth might actually cross the stream. If that happens, we could see a new meteor shower.

Comets are generally a loosely bound, mixed up bunch of ices, rocks and dust. As the ice sublimates, it releases the rock and dust, creating a debris stream along its orbit. If Earth passes through that stream, we get a meteor shower.  The more often a comet passes near the Sun, the less rock and dust it has to leave behind, so old, short period comets usually don’t generate much debris.

The debris will gradually spread out. The planets and repeated passes of the comet tug on it, causing it to drift away from the original path, widening it. Meteor showers can weaken if they aren’t replenished by the comet, or if the comet’s orbit shifts away from crossing Earth’s orbit. However, the same effects can also bring us a new meteor shower.

There is general agreement among space scientists that Earth will pass through  209P/LINEAR’s debris stream for the first time this year. However, it’s a short period comet, and we don’t know how long it’s been in its current orbit. It could be that it dumped most of its dust and rock millennia ago, and there’s not much left. Its also possible that this will be the meteor shower of the century.

The peak is estimated to occur around 6 or 7 AM UT on May 24. That’s 2 or 3 AM Eastern Daylight Savings time, perfect for the US. There’s enough uncertainty to make it worthwhile to go out and observe any time between dusk and dawn, as long as its clear. So get up, get out, and look north toward Camelopardalis (below is a star chart for 3 AM).

If you need another reason to go out, you can also catch the crescent Moon and Venus rising just before dawn.

For more on this new shower, and on comet 209P/LINEAR, read or watch the science at NASA article with an unintentionally familiar title…

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