Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It's Official: 2014 Cameloparid Meteors a Bust


Three days after they were supposed to peak and no late outbursts later it's now official: the Cameloparid Meteors for 2014 were a bust, which goes to show that, even in 2014, predicting meteor showers is still extremely difficult. 

So, what could have happened? Short answer: there were too many unknowns.

For starters, no one could predict how dense the trail of debris from Comet 209/P LINEAR was is in the first place. Long story short: if there's a lot of junk, there's a lot of meteors, a little junk, only a few meteors. Since Earth had never run into this trail of cometary debris before, there were no precedents on which to rely.

Another mystery was the exact nature of the comet itself. What was known is that this LINEAR has a short orbital period thanks to gravitational influences from Jupiter. Many comets originate billions of miles away from the Sun in the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud, get knocked out of their orbits, speed in toward the Sun, and then disappear back into space again for thousands of years, or even longer. In their inbound journey, these comets melt and shed a lot of debris, which turns into meteors when these tiny space pebbles hit and burn up in our atmosphere. LINEAR was probably once such a comet but, thanks to odd luck, gravitational influences of Jupiter and the other planets redirected it into a close orbit that takes it around the Sun every few years. The problem this presented: if LINEAR made lots of trips around the Sun, it was probably a “spent” comet in that, by now, it had pretty much shed all the debris it was going to shed.

However, there was an interesting possibility. In an interview with space.com, 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 was the one Earth was set to pass through on the night of May 23-24. On t he other hand, pessimists pointed to the fact that, thanks to its short orbital period and many trips around the Sun, LINEAR could be spent and not a big producer of dust anymore, meaning that, despite all those trips around the same path, not much of anything would be shed by the comet.

In the end, the conservatives/pessimists won as there was no 200-400 meteor per hour peak and certainly no 1,000 per hour outburst. Still though, it was a lot of fun to spend the night looking up at the sky and through the telescope and taking pictures, keeping one eye on the eyepiece and another toward the sky.

Who knows, the next shower could be very different . . .



Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Comet 209/P LINEAR/Camelopardalid Meteor Shower is Coming, 1,000 Meteors per Hour Possible!


In just two nights, Earth will pass through a stream of debris shed by the short-period comet 209/P LINEAR, which will produce a meteor shower that will radiate from the obscure constellation of Camelopardalis, which is located near the North Celestial Pole. For observers living in the Continental United States (and Alaska), the show will be well-positioned for its 2-4am peak on Friday morning. To make matters better, the Moon will be a non-factor, too.

See also: the greatest meteor storm in history

So, how are things looking in regards to the shower? Well, it depends on who you ask!

First the certain. Earth will definitely pass through a trail of cometary 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 are easy to find for even inexperienced star gazers.

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. This being a new shower, no one knows what to expect.

Another interesting possibility: in an interview with space.com, 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. On the high end, some estimates place meteor rates at 1,000 per hour, though many are far more conservative.

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 all of what it could shed eons ago, meaning that, despite all the debris shed for those 121 years between 1803 and 1924, there might not be much floating in space for Earth to run into. .

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.



Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?


For something even better, follow this blog.

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 . . .


Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?


For something even better, follow this blog.

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 space.com, 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.


Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.



Monday, May 5, 2014

Life Size vs. Half Life Size Macro: How Big Is the Difference?


Should I buy a 1:1 (life size) or a 1:2 (half life size) macro lens? That's a common question asked by many a beginning macro photographer. The problem: life size is the now standard spec for current macro lenses but old, half life size models from the beginning of the AF era (or even the MF era for that matter) can be had for a fraction of the cost of a modern macro.


So, how big is the difference? Well, look below to see.


As you can see, the difference between life and half life size is very noticeable indeed, with the life size quarter appearing to be about 4 times bigger than the half life size one. As for why the huge difference, it is thanks to the fact that the image is a 2 dimensional object and, by shrinking each axis by a factor of 2, you get a total shrinkage of a factor of 4 (½ x ½ = ¼).

Now, that's quite a loss but there's a clear way around the problem: cropping in Photoshop.

As you can see on the above picture, I could easily just crop the half life size image to be the equal of the life size one. Unfortunately, by doing this, I would be eliminating ¾ of the original image's resolution in the process, which presents another problem: can I afford to lose 75% of my pixels.

For 99% of people reading this, the answer is 'yes!'

Modern dSLR cameras have insane resolutions of at least 16Mp, which is way, way more than most people will ever need. Take it from someone who has been doing this since high school: you don't need massive pixel counts to get great prints. In high school, we were sometimes using 3Mp images (state of the art in the early 2000s) to fill 11x14 pages. Result: they looked great!

Don't print? No problem as all affordable computer and TV screens are 1920x1080 pixels in resolution, which translates to a measly 2Mp, which is half of the 4Mp you would get by cropping a 16Mp half life size image to the equivalent of a life size one. Bottom line: whether you show off your images on screen or on paper, you'll have plenty of resolution to send your audience members' jaws dropping to the floor provided you know how to shoot macro.


My advice: save the cash, buy the 1:2 lens, and crop your pictures. After all, money doesn't grow on trees.


Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.