On Saturday, May 24, Earth may get to see a meteor shower between 2 am and 4 am EDT. However, scientists remain unsure of how amazing the show will be. If the meteor shower hits its grandest point, there could be upwards of 200 shooting stars in an hour. The annual August meteor shower, Perseid, tops out at around 100.
Peter Jenniskens, an expert on meteors at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, said, “The shower is really a mystery. Nobody can tell what’s going to happen.”
The meteor shower is dubbed “Camelopardalis” after the constellation in which it originates. Camelopardalis means “camel-leopard” which is the 19th century moniker for a giraffe. As a result, many people are calling the meteor shower by a much simpler name, “Giraffe.”
The Giraffe meteor shower is a product of a comet called 209P/LINEAR. Like all comets, 209P/LINEAR has a “trail” behind it of shed pieces of dust and rock ranging from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a quarter.
To put it in context, consider a dog shedding its fur.
On Saturday, Earth will pass through 209P/LINEAR’s trail. That is the definite information. The issue is that the pieces of debris the Earth will be passing through will have been shed between the 18th and 19th centuries. There’s no way to tell how much shedding occurred that long ago.
“Despite all my computer models and all the meteor cameras, I wasn’t around 200 years ago,” said Bill Cooke, NASA‘s meteor expert at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
The debris from the comet could be up to 5 billion years old and may give scientists a glimpse into the formation of our solar system, according to Andrew Fraknoi, an astronomer at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. On top of that, this is the first time Earth will be affected by the ‘Giraffe’ meteor shower.
“This is still unknown territory for scientists,” said Fraknoi.
This meteor shower will be hitting the atmosphere at approximately 36,000 mph, which is actually relatively slow for meteors. The debris will burn up causing the illusion of the shooting stars people can be so fond of wishing on.
As of right now, no one can tell how spectacular the sight will turn out to be, but scientists are hopeful that the Earth will get a grand show.
[ Image courtesy of University Today ]