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Cemelopardalid Meteor Shower May Be Storm of Fireballs; When to Watch, Where to Find It

There may be 400 fireballs an hour in the skies this weekend.

Nobody can pronounce Cameloparid meteor shower but all of North America can watch it. (Photo courtesy of NASA.)
Nobody can pronounce Cameloparid meteor shower but all of North America can watch it. (Photo courtesy of NASA.)
by Todd Richissin

Astronomers are united in their assessment of whether the spakin' new May Cameloparid meteor shower, due this weekend, will be the best celestial show in years: maybe, they say, maybe not.

But quite possibly.

The May Camelopardalid meteor shower peak could very well turn into a storm over North America, but not to worry: the comet responsible for the meteors will come nowhere close to earth, and the meteors themselves burn high, high, high in our atmosphere.

When to Watch: The peak of the shower is predicted for Friday night and Saturday morning before sunrise. Models suggest that the best viewing hours are between 2 and 4 a.m. EDT. As with most meteor showers, though, you can often get a pretty good show a night or two before and after the peak.

The Washington Post notes that, with clear skies, sky gazers may see meteor activity by about 10:30 p.m. Friday night. And their tip on finding the shower? Just look up. It'll be easy to spot.

"I’m planning to be out watching,"  astronomer Geoff Chester told the Post.

History: That comet is called "209P/LINEAR," which is much more cool than its nerdish name. (And infinitely more pronounceable than its meteor shower.)

While the comet was discovered only in 2004, nobody has ever seen the Camelopardalids, the fireballs that should be visible as Earth passes through the trail of dust left behind by ol' 209P in the 1800s.

In a videocast, The head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, Dr. Bill Cooke, said he often lets cameras do his sky watching for him. 

But not this time.

"There could be a new meteor shower, and I want to see it with my own eyes," says Cooke. 

Some forecasters have predicted up to 400 meteors per hour, but the fact is that's a guess based on less data than experts would like.

"We have no idea what the comet was doing in the 1800s," says Cooke.  As a result of the uncertainty, "there could be a great meteor shower—or a complete dud." 

Most experts say, though, that at least a decent show can be expected, with a pretty good chance that the Camelopardalids will rival what is usually the best meteor show of the year, the Perseids, which in 2014 peak Aug. 10-Aug. 13.


Greybeard May 23, 2014 at 10:10 AM
That's "Cameleopardid". Article varies between that and "Cemeleopardid". Named after constellation "Camelopardalis", which means "giraffe", and yes, that's literally "camel" + "leopard": giraffes have long necks, like camels, and spots, like leopards! All words may come from Greek, but the Greek who first saw a giraffe wasn't very imaginative in picking a name.
Kelly Miller May 23, 2014 at 11:12 PM
Actually, the word giraffe is Arabic.
Jordan Dolton May 24, 2014 at 06:27 AM
It is the romanisation of the Greek "καμηλοπάρδαλις" (Camelopardalis) meaning "giraffe". Combination of "κάμηλος" (kamēlos), "camel" and "πάρδαλις" (pardalis), "leopard".

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