Camelopardalids, dust up to dust

In November 2013, Quanzhi Ye and Paul A. Wiegert submitted a paper to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggesting that Comet 209P/LINEAR might produce strong meteor activity on May 24, 2014. This prediction was based on numerical simulations of the Earth passing through comet's dust trails left behind from 1798-1979. Even though Comet 209P/LINEAR is relatively depleted in dust production, possibly transitioning from a typical comet to a dormant comet, the authors claimed their simulation showed that the size distribution of the arriving particles was skewed strongly to larger particles, and that the event, if detectable, may be dominated by bright meteors. The authors encouraged observers to monitor the event.

The headline read,  "May 2014 - Meteor Storm of the Century"
The popular press got wind of this and there was quite a "dust up", so to speak. After all, this was going to be the first ever 'meteor storm' arriving from this radiant in Camelopardalis, and it might put on a spectacular show with bright meteors and bolides. So everyone struggled to learn how to pronounce Camelopardalis and Camelopardalids and we all anxiously awaited the predicted peak of the meteor shower Saturday morning. 

Incredibly, the forecast for Michigan on the morning in question was for clear skies, so I set my alarm to get up around 1:30AM to go outside and witness the "meteor storm of the century". The alarm went off, I looked out the window and saw the sky was indeed clear, so I dragged myself out to the back yard, took a seat on a wet, dewy lawn chair and waited for the show to start.

And waited for the show to start.

And waited some more.

After forty minutes I had not seen one meteor, not even a random one. I was tired and having a hard time rationalizing staying awake in the midst of all this excitement and a wet butt, so I gave up and went back to bed. 

The following afternoon the IAU released Electronic Telegram No. 3886, in which they describe results from the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar. They said that the radiant of the shower and peak of activity were very close to those predicted, suggesting that debris from comet 209P/LINEAR encountered the earth much as expected.  However, the shower radar echoes were confined to faint meteors (equivalent visual magnitude 6-7), which is consistent with a debris trail populated mainly by particles of milligram mass and smaller.

So the Camelopardalids Meteor Storm of the Century lived up to its namesake, Camelopardalis, one of the faintest constellations in the northern sky, with no stars brighter than 4th magnitude. Most people can't even point out Camelopardalis because it is invisible, even under semi-dark suburban skies. And, just like its namesake constellation, the Camelopardalids were mostly too faint to see, even from my rural dark sky sight.


Anonymous said...

I caught a single meteor trail with a wide angle DSLR on Friday night. Much too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Reading your article about the shower was much more interesting that watching the shower. ;-)

Mindy said...

I was wondering why there was no chatter about this the next morning. Cloudy here, so I didn't even stay awake. Thanks for the update.