With the Memorial Day long weekend fast approaching, chances are you looking for somewhere to go. Here's a suggestion - Find a location that takes you away from bright city lights, one where you are able to see the clear dark skies and shining stars. That's because on May 24th, you might be able to witness a never before seen meteor shower.
The only caveat is that the celestial show could go either way - While some scientists predict that it will be a meteor 'storm' with as many as 200 shooting stars zipping down to earth every hour, others think that it may be a total no-show. That's because our planet has never before crossed Comet 209/Linear's path, which was laid down in the 19th century, about a 100 years before it was spotted by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research Project. With no observational data or report of sightings to guide them, scientists have no way to verify how active the comet was back then and estimate how much dust it may left behind. As Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office puts it “There could be a great meteor shower — or a complete dud.”
The good news is that either way, North Americans will have the best visibility, because the optimal viewing time is expected to be when the skies are still dark - between 2 and 4 a.m. EDT on May 24th. If the meteor showers prove to be as substantial as some experts predict, they will called the 'May Camelopardalids'.
Meteor showers occur when earth comes upon the meteors or dust particles left behind by comets. The tiny particles are traveling at such supersonic speeds that when they encounter our atmosphere, the pressure created by the impact, results in extreme heat, causing the meteor to vaporize. This results in a visible trail, something that we have all come to recognize and revere as shooting stars!
Whether the May Camelopardalids sizzle or fizzle, will only be revealed on May 24th. But it may still be worth the effort given that all you need to do is settle yourself into a comfortable chair, grab some hot cocoa and wait for the show to begin - An added bonus? A legitimate excuse to stay up all night!