BIG TICKET GIVEAWAY

Win 2 tickets to every event for a year! Click here to enter.

Present by The Daily Herald
The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


Weekend to-do list
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Sunday, May 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Meteor shower could even be a storm

Early next Saturday morning our Everett skies could be ablaze with one heck of a meteor shower between 2 and 3 a.m., and maybe even close to what's called a meteor storm. These days, when anyone can easily write anything they want on the Internet and Facebook, there are wild predictions out there and a lot of it winds up being junk. In your cyber travels lately you may have heard something about this coming meteor shower and had your doubts about its legitimacy. This looks like it could be the real thing though.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth, in its orbit around the sun, plows into debris trails of dust, sand and pebbles left behind by melting comets. The individual bits of debris burn up in our atmosphere. As they slam in at speeds that can be over 40 miles a second they chemically excite the columns of air they come through, producing the multi-color streaks and a great show.
Comets are basically the dirty snowballs of the solar system. They originate from the far outer reaches of the solar system in the Oort cloud.   
Because of gravitational perturbations from nearby stars these dirty cosmic snowballs can get directed toward our sun and wind up in highly elliptical orbits around our home star. The giant planet Jupiter and its gravitational tug can also have an effect on comet orbits. When they get close to the sun and the Earth comets partially, and sometimes totally melt, releasing tons of potential meteors. Because of this we get to enjoy these annual shows. 
Some meteor showers are better than others though, especially the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December. In those showers it's possible to see more than 50 meteors or “shooting stars” an hour with dark skies and little or no moonlight. This new shower on Saturday morning, called the Camelopardalids could be equal to or maybe much more prosperous.
The parent comet for the Camelopardalids is Comet Linear, first discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Observatory, operated by the U.S. Air Force, whose main mission is to keep an electronic eye out for menacing near-Earth asteroids. The comet is named after the observatory. The comet last came by this part of the solar system in 2009 and will pass by the Earth again this early May. Linear's pass is a lot closer to the Earth this time because of the huge gravitational tug from Jupiter. It actually reshaped the comet's orbit so that this month Linear will pass within 280,000 miles of Earth, which isn't that much farther away from us than the moon. To make a long story short, that basically means the Earth will be crossing into a lot more comet debris.
Comet experts don't want to get too carried away and declare the Camelopardalids meteor shower a meteor storm because much is unknown about this comet, including its dust productivity and even its precise orbit. The heaviest part could be short-lived too, lasting perhaps between a few minutes to less than an hour. There might even be multiple peaks of the meteor shower in the predawn hours next Saturday morning. The best advice I can give you is to be ready for anything from an astronomical spectacular, but also be psychologically prepared for a fizzle. The Camelopardalids are anything but a sure bet.
If Saturday morning's meteor shower does meet or beat expectations we're at the right place at the right time. The United States and North America will be in the best position on the globe to watch the shower and there won't be much interfering moonlight either, as all we'll have is a waning crescent moon rising around 4 a.m. To increase your chances even more, get out into the dark countryside. You don't want to waste a potential great meteor shower mired in city lights.
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist.
Story tags » Star Gazing

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

HeraldNet highlights

Staying power
Staying power: Mill's gone, but Mill Town Credit Union still thriving
Prep football roundup
Prep football roundup: Photos and stories from week 2 of high school football
Fall TV preview
Fall TV preview: 10 shows you might love, and 5 you'll probably hate
Taste of Oktober
Taste of Oktober: A look at 5 Oktoberfest beers and one harvest wild card