In 2014, everyone knows who Godzilla is, what Bigfoot is, and where Mothman has been spotted. However, there is one mythical creature which has faded into the mists of time: the camelopardalid. Quick, without using Google – tell me what exactly, a camelopardalid is? Can’t do it? I didn’t think so. It turns out that a camelopardalid is actually not just a mythical creature, but a real creature as well. The term “camelopardalid” comes from the ancient Romans, who used it to describe a creature that was “part leopard” and “part camel”. If that sounds crazy to you, it is – and it isn’t. What the Romans were actually describing was a giraffe – which has no relation to either a leopard or a camel!
Like the mystery surrounding its namesake, this weekend’s (May 23-24, 2014) meteor shower is a bit of an unknown. What is clear is that there will be a meteor shower from the late evening of May 23, 2014 to the early morning of May 24, 2014. It may also be a meteor storm, it may also be the biggest meteor shower of 2014; and it may be nothing. The verdict is truly out on this meteor shower for one simple reason: this is the first recorded time it has occurred. Think about that for a second. All of the other meteor showers have been occurring for hundreds, if not thousands of years or longer above Earth. This shower? It has never been seen by humans - ever. It is the inaugural shower, and the first chance for you – or any human to see it. For that reason alone, the camelopardalid shower of May 23-24th, 2014 is worth watching. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know to see the camelopardalid’s inaugural run:
What’s causing this Meteor Shower? The meteor shower is going to be caused from debris from comet 209P/LINEAR which passes through Earth’s orbit every five years. This comet wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2004.
Wait – if this comet passes by Earth every five years, why is this the first meteor shower caused by the comet? Simply put, everything in space is moving – the Earth, the sun, Comet 209P/LINEAR – even the Milky Way galaxy is moving. All of this movement means that the Earth is just now passing through Comet 209P/LINEAR’s debris cloud from some 200 years ago.
So since these comet particles are two hundred years old, no one really knows what will happen? Exactly. As no one was watching – or recording the activities of Comet 209P/LINEAR during that time, it’s unclear whether there will be a lot of particles – or no particles.
Why is this meteor shower called the camelopardalids if the meteors come from Comet 209P/LINEAR? The meteor shower is called the camelopardalids because the meteors will be the most visible by the constellation camelopardalid (the giraffe) in the Northern Part of the night sky.
When can I see this Meteor Shower? The meteor shower will begin at roughly 6 and 8 a.m. Universal Time or 2 to 4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on May 24, or 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time on May 23-24, 2014. However, given that this is the first time this shower has occurred, activity could begin either before or slightly after these projected times.
Where can I see this Meteor Shower? The best places to view the camelopardalids are in North America. Viewers will want to find the Big Dipper in the sky, and then look to its immediate right to find Camelopardalid, which is where a majority of the meteors will be. Alternatively, stargazers can look for Polaris (the North Star), and then follow an invisible line down at a thirty degree angle to again find camelopardalid.
How Many Meteors Will I See? The most accurate answer is that no one knows. Some models have projected that there could be a thousand (1000) meteors an hour; whereas other models have projected that there will only be 100-200 meteors an hour; some models have projected next to zero meteors. It is worth noting though that if the shower was between 100-200 meteors an hour, it would be considered a big shower.
What’s the Best Way to View the Meteors? As with any cosmic phenomena - meteors, comets, and general stargazing, the best way to view the eclipse is to head to any area that is as dark as possible. This means that you want to be as far away from unnatural light sources as possible. If you can't make it out of whichever city you find yourself in, try and find the darkest safest spot you can (such as a park), and chances are, unless you are smack dab in the middle of the city, you will see something. Tip: no matter where you are, go outside for five to ten minutes before the eclipse to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness (or as dark as it gets).