Monday, May 12, 2014

Comet 209P/LINEAR Could Produce Meteor Storm May 23-24, 400 Meteors Per Hour Possible

Mark your calendars for the night of May 23-24 as Comet 209P/LINEAR could produce a meteor storm (optimistic forecasts predict as many as 400 meteors per hour under ideal conditions) as Earth is set to pass through a trail of debris shed by the comet, which was only discovered in 2004. The best part: us in the United States are best suited to see the event.

So, what's up?

First the certain. Earth will definitely pass through a trail of comet debris on the Night of May 23-24, reaching the deepest concentration between 2 and 4am EST. The meteors will appear to radiate from the obscure constellation of Camelopardalis, which is located between the more famous constellations of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, which means that anytime is a good time to view the shower. Another plus: the Moon will be out of the way, too.

Now for the unknowns.

For starters, no one knows how dense this trail of debris is in the first place, which will have a direct impact on whether these meteors sizzle or fizzle. Long story short: if there's a lot of junk, there will be a lot of meteors, a little junk, only a few meteors.

Another interesting possibility: in an interview with, French astronomer Jeremie Vauballion did some calculations and came to an intriguing conclusion: all of the trails of debris shed by the comet between 1803 and 1924 were along roughly the same path, which is the one Earth will pass through on the night of May 23-24.

However, other research is decidedly less optimistic, suggesting that 209P/LINEAR, thanks to its short orbital period and many trips around the Sun, barely produces any dust anymore, having shed most of what it could shed eons ago.

Bottom line: no one knows what's going to happen until the night of May 23-24 arrives, so hope for clear skies. If you can, stay up (or get up early) and head out, turn your eyes skyward, and hope for the best, which could be spectacular.

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