Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What is a Camelopardalis (Besides a Meteor Shower)?

In case you didn't know, Comet 209/P LINEAR is expected to produce a meteor shower this week, peaking the night of May 23-4 at roughly 2-4pm EDT. Now, as befitting traditional rules of meteor shower naming, the meteors aren't going to be named for their parent object, but for the constellation from which they originate, in this case, the constellation of Camelopardalis.

Constellation what?

Needless to say, more than a few people were left scratching their heads when they heard of this constellation, which is one that most people have probably never heard of at all. Camelopardalis is located between the more famous constellations of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, which means that anytime is a good time to view the shower because the constellation is near the circumpolar region of sky. Another plus: the Moon will be out of the way, too.

Location aside, what is a Camelopardalis, anyway?

Short answer: a giraffe.

For the longer answer, the word 'camelopardalis' is a combination of two words in the Greek, one meaning 'camel' and the other 'leopard.' The reason? A giraffe looks a little like a camel but has spots like a leopard. AS for the constellation itself, it was first categorized as a constellation in 1612 (or 13 depending on the source) by Petrus Plancius, who was a Dutch astronomer and clergyman, to represent the animal Rebecca rode on the trip to marry Issac in the Bible. In the following years, more people recognized the constellation as such and it eventually became one of the 88 constellations canonized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922.

As for the shower itself, there's still some uncertainty as to how it will behave, so stay tuned as I'll be sure to post another update as the time draws closer . . .

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