Astronomers are predicting the astronomical event of a lifetime next week. On 24 May 2014, Earth will pass through the debris tail of Comet 209P/LINEAR, which will unleash a myriad of cosmic explosions lighting up the night sky.
This will be the first time Earth has ever experienced this particular meteor shower. A meteor shower happens when the Earth passes through debris left in space by a comet; the chunks of rock, ice and other materials, burn up in the atmosphere to form ‘shooting’ or ‘falling stars’.
The meteor shower, known as Camelopardalids, has its genesis from Comet 209P/LINEAR, a dim, nearly imperceptible comet that orbits the sun every five years. The comet was discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project, a partnership of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, NASA and the U.S. Air Force. This will be the first time Earth has crossed through the debris field left by Comet 209P/LINEAR.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation from which the meteors seem to radiate. That point is known as the radiant, and radiant for the meteor shower will be the constellation Camelopardalis (the giraffe).
Camelopardalis is a circumpolar constellation, which means that, rather than moving from east to west across the night sky, it rotates around the North Star, Polaris, so the constellation is visible all night long throughout the northern hemisphere.
Camelopardalis is located close to the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, two of the most recognizable constellations to the layman astronomer. Therefore, the star-gazing event can be easily viewed by the public with little time and energy spent discerning a star map to find the location of Camelopardalids.
Peak time for Camelopardalids will be from 2-4 AM on 24 May 2014, but astronomers expect the meteor shower to be visible as early as 23 May, due to the new moon immersing the night sky in darkness.