Did you see them? On Friday night/Saturday morning May 23/24, some astronomers were cautiously predicting that we’d experience a new meteor shower. Earth might cross several intersecting streams of particles left by Comet 209P/LINEAR.
How many shooting stars would observers see? Conservative astronomers guessed a possible rate between 100 and 400 per hour at the peak, which arrived from 2 to 4 a.m. EDT. But some researchers who noted the “crossing of the streams” said the shower could reach storm levels for a brief time.
A meteor shower becomes a meteor storm when the hourly rate reaches 1,000 or more. As you might imagine, such events are rare.
They still are. The Camelopardalids, called so because the point from which all the meteors originated was in the ultra-faint northern constellation Camelopardalis, did not approach storm levels. And it didn’t reach 400 per hour … or 100 per hour.
Longtime Astronomy magazine contributor John Chumack captured this fireball in 1994 as he was attempting to photograph Mercury in a colorful twilight sky. // Photo by John Chumack
Here’s my report. Early Friday, I flew from Milwaukee to LAX to attend the StarLight Festival on Saturday and Sunday in Big Bear Lake, California. But Friday, I hooked up with a good friend, Brad Unruh, and we made plans to head out to observe the meteor shower. Brad knows the area, checked a few maps, and decided we’d head in the direction of the desert north of Los Angeles. We drove about an hour to get there.
A few high clouds greeted us, but we could see all seven stars of the Little Dipper, which usually indicates a limiting magnitude below 5th magnitude. Quite reasonable, I thought, for how close we were to one of the world’s largest cities. The clouds weren’t an issue, mainly working to steady the air. Few stars were twinkling at all.
We set up a table laden with food on the side of a lightly traveled dirt road. We also had a cooler filled with non-alcoholic drinks. Two chairs completed our observing “picnic.”
For the next three hours, we kept our eyes glued to the northern sky. There we could see Polaris, the Big Dipper, the Head of Draco, and the bright star Vega with a single glance.
And our results? Brad saw two meteors. I saw one. Total. In three hours. We’re still laughing about this because, on any random night, an observer at a reasonably dark site with the Moon not in the sky should be able to spot six or seven sporadic meteors. A sporadic is a meteor not associated with a shower.
And together we logged an amazing total of three! It’s the most disappointing count in my entire life, and I have well over a thousand hours of meteor watching. I hope other observers saw more. Hey, sometimes you win, and sometimes not. Despite the low count, Brad and I had a great time together.
If you happened to be one of the many amateur astronomers photographing this shower, please send your results/images to me (with all details) via email to ReaderGallery@Astronomy.com.