HEADS UP!!! Camelopardalids (a major meteor shower) tonight and tomorrow
May 23, 2014 1:00 PM   Subscribe

A meteor shower that has never been seen before is expected to hit tonight and into the morning, and it could be spectacular. Camelopardalids may be your 1st and last chance to see shooting stars from Comet 209P/Linear. NASA predicts it will peak from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. ET Saturday morning, but says "outbursts" could happen any time all night.

It recommends looking near the North Star at the faint constellation.
posted by shockingbluamp (58 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like this was also the premise behind Attack The Block so I will fill my squirt gun with gasoline just in case.
posted by elizardbits at 1:10 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Camel leopards?
posted by joelf at 1:14 PM on May 23, 2014

"Camelopardalids" Honest to god, that word caught my eye and I thought it was going to be a post about MERS (Mid East Respiratory Syndrome).
posted by rmhsinc at 1:15 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will arise at 2:00, dress hopefully and venture into the yard where dense clouds will once again mock me, as they have during so very many amazing sky events. Sigh.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:15 PM on May 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

Clouds are jerks.
posted by bondcliff at 1:16 PM on May 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hey, cool! For once, skies will actually be clear here, and I will be able to see...whassat?...2:00 AM???...goddammit...
posted by Thorzdad at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let's see. Is it gonna be foggy tonight?


posted by rtha at 1:20 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doh. This is when I wish I had a car, a blanket, and a significant other to keep me warm.

(Well, I do have a blanket. Plus it's cloudy here anyway. But Friday on a 3 day weekend's about the best timing you could hope for on a 3AM event.)
posted by maryr at 1:21 PM on May 23, 2014

In other news, camel leopard's not a terrible name for a giraffe. It's a big ol' spotted camel. Seems legit.
posted by maryr at 1:22 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend and I are going to try and drive out of the cloud cover and light pollution of Seattle far enough into the mountains to go see this. Wish us luck!
posted by foxfirefey at 1:23 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

kinnakeet: I know what you mean. I have an astounding psychic ability: I can predict the weather in and around the Detroit area for days (sometimes months and years) in advance. If there is going to be a celestial event of ANY type, i.e. meteor shower, eclipse, planetary alignment that will be visible in my area the weather report will be: "Cloudy, cold and wet. Visibility Zero".
posted by TDavis at 1:26 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's supposed to clear right around 2AM! I will look up as I bike home.

But I'm assuming the light pollution in TO will render it moot.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:33 PM on May 23, 2014

*has Night of the Comet flashbacks*
posted by Kitteh at 1:35 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm sad that I'm going to miss this one, but it still never fails to hit me how profoundly transformative it is that events like this are so predictable and understood. Comets have gone from being message from the heavens dictating ill omens for somebody and a powerful symbol of the inherent unpredictability of our world, toppling kingdoms and emboldening or scattering armies, to being almost the mirror opposite: something beautiful and interconnecting.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:35 PM on May 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Camelopardalids is actually the latin name for a problem that women often had the first time jeggings were popular in the Valentinian dynasty. It is where Gratain (Roman emperor 375 to 383) got his name from (Flavious Gratainius translates directly to Cheesy Flavour) and it was part of the reason he willing acquiesced to just ruling over the Gallic provinces as their love of cheese is well known to this day.

Comets are more fun with a backstory.
posted by srboisvert at 1:41 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Come by my place if you want to take a late night bike ride into the dark wilderness to bask in the exploding dust.
posted by planetesimal at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes! I'm hoping to see these. It's supposed to be cloudy tonight, but will clear after midnight. Fingers crossed!

There's tons of light pollution here, but you can still see things that are directly overhead. If these meteors come from the direction of Polaris they should be visible.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:53 PM on May 23, 2014

As of now, it's supposed to be clear tonight in the mountains above LA, which is where I'll be, hopefully seeing this! It's early enough on the west coast that it's hardly any extra effort to try and catch it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:56 PM on May 23, 2014

The thing that gets me about meteors is you never know when one will show up. You can stand there craning your neck for fifteen minutes to look at the sky with no results, then glance at your watch and zing! One flashes overhead. There's just enough time to realize what you're seeing and then they're gone.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:00 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in Amsterdam, we are supposed to see something of this too. I am firing up the espresso machine right now to catch something of this. I know nothing about meteorites and I don't know where to look. I have a pretty terrific view looking south west. Is it worth getting the tripod out and getting the camera ready? I love night photography and this would be a great opportunity. Any mefite around who could help me answer this question?
posted by ouke at 2:04 PM on May 23, 2014

I will look up as I bike home.

Pull over first though.
posted by elizardbits at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2014

Phil Plait pronounces camelopardalids for you. Bonus pets. Warning: Vine may autoplay. Beware: You may have just found your new ringtone.

(He adds a bad pronunciation in a second Vine. Even he sounds suspicious of it. Bad! Bad astronomer!)
posted by maudlin at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going up to South Lake Tahoe tonight, but it looks like it may be a bit cloudy for camel-leopard viewing. :-(
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:07 PM on May 23, 2014

Anyone know the darkest spot within a, say, 2 hour drive of Chicago?
posted by PMdixon at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems your best bet is to look north, ouke. The meteors will be coming in (roughly) over the North Pole and then going in different directions.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:17 PM on May 23, 2014

But unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Camelopardalids will be visible from Europe. Here's a viewing map from NASA. (Source.)
posted by Kevin Street at 2:23 PM on May 23, 2014

PMdixon, you can find a place with http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks Kevin Street, it look like the dutch press screwed up again, not bothering to check anything whatsoever. Meanwhile, I've got two very intense espresso's behind my belt and it's almost midnight. Yahtzee anyone?
posted by ouke at 2:35 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

A long time ago, when I was but a wee nerd and I first learned to read, I was fascinated by a book on astronomy I'd somehow gotten my hands on. The earliest story that many relatives or family friends tell about me involves visiting my parents and being interrogated by four-year-old me, at length, to determine whether they knew various fascinating facts about the stars and planets. (Which explains, perhaps, why some of them still act, decades later, as though I might suddenly and without warning challenge them to name the moons of Saturn.)

This early academic fascination with astronomy, however, fizzled out because I had no practical way of exercising it -- I grew up in a part of the country that is notably cloudy and never ever seemed to get the opportunity to observe unusual astronomical phenomena when they occurred because you simply couldn't see the heavens most of the time. Eventually I left home and went to a university where you couldn't see the heavens well for other reasons (light pollution, chiefly) and then after some number of years I moved to Seattle. Clearly I was not meant to be a stargazer.

The thing about Seattle, though, is that even though overcast skies are pretty routine, you can (if sufficiently motivated) easily drive from Seattle to the crest of the Cascades and once you're over the pass and into eastern Washington the climate changes pretty substantially and clear skies are the norm. So back in the early 00s, while I was still living in that part of the world, I talked a friend into driving out over the Snoqualmie Pass and out onto some logging road east of the mountains to view that year's Leonid Shower, and it's an experience neither of us has ever forgotten.

Nowadays I live in an honest-to-god rainforest and my star-viewing chances are worse than ever, but by miraculous fluke I might actually get clear, or maybe partially clear, views of the sky tonight. Really the best option would probably be to be anchored out overnight somewhere out on the water, but if I can't manage that I'll at least try to find a spot with a clear view of some significant portion of the sky, to see whether the Camelopardalids can capture any of the magic of that 2002 Leonid shower.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2014

Just to be clear: if a meteor shower's "radiant" is in a particular part of the sky (in this case, near Polaris), that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to look at that part of the sky to see meteors.

The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. But if you trace their trails backwards, the imaginary lines would all appear to intersect at the radiant. (If you see a meteor somewhere in the sky, tracing its trail backwards can be one way to tell whether it actually came from this comet, or whether it's a sporadic meteor from the random space dust that's always around us.)

Usually, I just try to look at whatever part of the sky happens to be darkest, and I try to pay attention to peripheral vision. ^_^

More information about this particular meteor shower at: the International Meteor Organization and Sky and Telescope

ClearDarkSky is a good resource for finding viewing times and locations for astronomical events. If you go to an individual page, like this one for Monte Bello Open Space Preserve in northern California, there's a link to a light pollution map (accounting for artificial light from cities), but there are also forecasts for cloud cover, darkness over time (accounting for light from the sun and moon), temperature, and other factors that influence how well you'll actually be able to see things.
posted by omnomnOMINOUS at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

If the high end of the prediction comes true this could be comparable to the 1933 Draconids, which my mother saw in The Netherlands and was apparently a non-stop display. (Her description matched this eyewitness account which said "The fire-stars became as thick as the flakes of a snowstorm.)
posted by beagle at 3:15 PM on May 23, 2014

Comets have gone from being message from the heavens dictating ill omens for somebody and a powerful symbol of the inherent unpredictability of our world, toppling kingdoms and emboldening or scattering armies, to being almost the mirror opposite: something beautiful and interconnecting.

I'm not so sure humanity should be putting comets on its BFF list quite yet:
Why Halley's Comet May Be Linked to Famine 1,500 Years Ago

The ancients had ample reason to view comets as harbingers of doom, it would appear.

A piece of the famous Halley's comet likely slammed into Earth in A.D. 536, blasting so much dust into the atmosphere that the planet cooled considerably, a new study suggests. This dramatic climate shift is linked to drought and famine around the world, which may have made humanity more susceptible to "Justinian's plague" in A.D. 541-542 — the first recorded emergence of the Black Death in Europe.

The new results come from an analysis of Greenland ice that was laid down between A.D. 533 and 540. The ice cores record large amounts of atmospheric dust during this seven-year period, not all of it originating on Earth.

"I have all this extraterrestrial stuff in my ice core," study leader Dallas Abbott, of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told LiveScience here last week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Certain characteristics, such as high levels of tin, identify a comet as the origin of the alien dust, Abbott said. And the stuff was deposited during the Northern Hemisphere spring, suggesting that it came from the Eta Aquarid meteor shower — material shed by Halley's comet that Earth plows through every April-May.

The Eta Aquarid dust may be responsible for a period of mild cooling in 533, Abbott said, but it alone cannot explain the global dimming event of 536-537, during which the planet may have cooled by as much as 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius). For that, something more dramatic is required.

Ice core data record evidence of a volcanic eruption in 536, but it almost certainly wasn't big enough to change the climate so dramatically, Abbott said.

"There was, I think, a small volcanic effect," she said. "But I think the major thing is that something hit the ocean."

She and her colleagues have found circumstantial evidence of such an impact. The Greenland ice cores contain fossils of tiny tropical marine organisms — specifically, certain species of diatoms and silicoflagellates.

An extraterrestrial impact in the tropical ocean likely blasted these little low-latitude organisms all the way to chilly Greenland, researchers said. And Abbott believes the object responsible was once a piece of Halley's comet.
posted by jamjam at 3:33 PM on May 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

(Lazy Chicago people : from the link given to me it seems like Pratts Wayne Woods out by Elgin/St Charles is basically as good as you get without going most of the way to Iowa)
posted by PMdixon at 3:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anybody else remember that 80s live-action Buck Rogers-y space station show (this was actually substantially later than my time)? The robot on that show would exclaim "Camelopardalis!" to indicate surprise. Despite everything else execrable about the show, that always tickled my funny bone.

Camel leopards?

Latinized Greek word for giraffe, because ... camel leopard.

I'm not so sure humanity should be putting comets on its BFF list quite yet:

B612 represent!
posted by dhartung at 3:50 PM on May 23, 2014

Hale-Bopp seemed to have its share of craziness.
posted by planetesimal at 4:12 PM on May 23, 2014

I am sure hoping the new high resolution cameras on the ISS will be running during the night side passes. They should be, but I've never yet seen city lights that ought to appear when the screen is dark.

I've read that meteor showers viewed from above are worth watching.
posted by hank at 4:13 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Camelopard (from The Bad Child's Book of Beasts by Hilaire Belloc)

The Camelopard, it is said
By travellers (who never lie),
He cannot stretch out straight in bed
Because he is so high.

The clouds surround his lofty head,
His hornlets touch the sky.
How shall I hunt this quadruped?
I cannot tell! Not I!

I'll buy a little parachute
(A common parachute with wings),
I'll fill it full of arrowroot
And other necessary things,

And I will slay this fearful brute
With stones and sticks and guns and slings.
posted by tangerine at 4:45 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Put camelopards in the air" doesn't really have the same ring to it, I find.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:54 PM on May 23, 2014

Yay! A meatier shower!!
posted by The otter lady at 7:55 PM on May 23, 2014

Too much light pollution here (plus, I'm tired), but nothing will ever top the meteor I saw during the Leonids (I think?) while toking up with friends on an abandoned stretch of highway when I was 15. We saw the usual thin streaks high above, and were like "this is pretty cool", when suddenly...

...a huge streak of fire tears across half the sky, low enough that we could hear the damn thing screaming like a firework. It was *really* low. I think we might have actually dived for cover. It exploded (vaporized?) in midair, leaving us standing there with our jaws open. Like, we're baked, and a flaming rock from outer space just flew right over our heads. The whole thing couldn't have lasted more than two seconds.

Then we went to Denny's.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:32 PM on May 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Christ I'm too tired to haul my ass an hour away to some spot where Toledo isn't washing out the stars. Why can't these damn things peak around, like, 11pm est?
posted by charred husk at 10:00 PM on May 23, 2014


nothing will ever top the meteor I saw during the Leonids (I think?) while toking up with friends on an abandoned stretch of highway when I was 15

yeah the first one i saw was when i was around 15-16 and blasted on acid at montauk in the middle of december, 4 of us were sprawled across the hood of my friend's car huddled up in a bunch of ratty old army blankets trying not to freeze to death, it was fucking glorious

then i had to pee on the side of the road in -20 cold with high winds, that ended badly
posted by elizardbits at 10:20 PM on May 23, 2014

I propose a drinking game to go along with the live feed The rules are simple: do a shot everytime he says 'exciting' while the black rectangle and his soporifc voice lull us all to sleep. Last man awake (or first to see a meteor) wins
posted by zeoslap at 11:15 PM on May 23, 2014

BUndled up in my blanket in the yard fr 30 minutes now. ]

Just saw 4 metrors in a single minute!
posted by joeyh at 12:07 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

A total bust for me here south of Chicago. Went out for the last twenty minutes and all I saw was the ISS cruising overhead. Of course, I was staring north into all that light pollution from the Chicagoland area so I guess I'm fortunate to have even seen the ISS. Does that thing have some kind of weird strobe light off to its left side? I swear I saw some blinking on its left as it floated by. And, no, it was not an aircraft.

Anyway, I'll bank on the Leonids. They usually put on a great show if we aren't socked in with clouds (which we frequently seem to be here). Glad for you folks who had a better show than I did, though.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:05 AM on May 24, 2014

I checked twice since I was awake anyway and we have a nice rural no-light sky. Nothing but clouds but at least this time I checked, unlike all the other meteor showers I've been awake for but which were not important enough to interrupt my busy schedule of Netflix-viewing for.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:30 AM on May 24, 2014

No action at all between 3 - 4:15, here in London Ontario's perfectly clear skies - saw the ISS though, which was cool.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:42 AM on May 24, 2014

Yep. Same old same old. Damn clouds.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:14 AM on May 24, 2014

Saw ONE around 1:00 am EST, and not a single other during the peak time. A total of about 45 minutes of neck craning for one measly meteorite.
posted by absentian at 6:16 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well I'm glad I went to bed at 1:30, saw maybe one and I gave up after seeing not much else...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:33 AM on May 24, 2014

... all I saw was the ISS cruising overhead.

Exact same experience here in Toronto. Clear skies but too much light pollution.

I'd never seen the ISS. That was pretty cool. It really stood out amongst the faint stars (I can just barely make out the big dipper).
posted by beau jackson at 7:20 AM on May 24, 2014

Yup us too, west of Toronto, saw 4-5 tiny ones at like 2:30am, and then nothing. Packed it up after the ISS showed up.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:18 AM on May 24, 2014

I saw two good ones in about 20 minutes of watching, then got too cold and sleepy. I'm just outside Seattle. Viewing time was 1:20 am.

I also heard an owl in my neighborhood for the first time.
posted by isthmus at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

No luck here. It cleared after three, but I didn't see a single meteor.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:40 AM on May 24, 2014

I took a ride out into the dark where there were mostly clear skies and saw maybe two before the mosquitos started eating through the repellant and forced my retreat. Stupid boring comet trail!
posted by planetesimal at 12:11 PM on May 24, 2014

beau jackson: "I'd never seen the ISS. That was pretty cool. It really stood out amongst the faint stars."

Yeah, seeing the ISS is really cool. I remember seeing it once when a shuttle was docked there, and it was much brighter at that time. Not sure if I was just at the sweet angle for a maximum reflection or what, but it's really sad to me knowing that situation will never occur again. Ah well, time marches on. Sorry for the derail.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:30 PM on May 24, 2014

I saw the streak of a really impressive fireball around midnight PT and maybe ten other meteors over the span of the next hour or so, but that was about it. I really wish I'd seen the actual fireball, but it was very low on the horizon and had already disappeared behind a mountain by the time I saw it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:40 PM on May 24, 2014

I was camping with a bunch of other MeFites in a very remote corner of SE Oregon this weekend specifically to see this meteor shower.

It rained that night, we saw nothing.
posted by hippybear at 7:25 PM on May 26, 2014

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