Meteor Shower to Entertain North America Early Saturday

May 23, 2014

Credit earthsky.org

There's a meteor shower on tap for this weekend, and it might even turn into a full-fledged meteor storm. But you’ll have to get up pretty early to watch it.

Between one and three o’clock Central time Saturday morning Earth will pass by debris from Comet 209P/Linear, which orbits between us and Jupiter. That dusty debris is what creates the meteor shower. The shower could as many as one hundred shooting stars per hour in the skies over northwest Florida.

Sky-gazers in North America will have the best views. The shower should peak from around 2 a.m. local time until nearly dawn. Comet 209-P/Linear was discovered in 2004. It will be about 7.6 million miles from Earth on Saturday. Next Tuesday, the comet will pass within 5 million miles.

Wayne Wooten -- an astronomer at Pensacola State College – says the meteors will radiate from an obscure northern constellation called Camelopardalis (The Giraffe).

“Basically, if you’re looking to the northeast, that’s where the meteors will be coming from,” said Wooten. “Particularly in our area, they’ll be going all the way across the sky. We may get some fireballs that run from horizon to horizon.”

And the earth may not be the lone visible target. There’s speculation that some of the space dust will also hit the moon, which will be in a crescent stage this weekend. Also, this space dust will be coming in at a slower speed than normal – eight to ten thousand miles an hour. That’s roughly a third of the speed of most other meteor showers.

And if you miss this meteor shower, Wooten says there are others that will be visible from here in 2014, starting with the Perseids on August 12.

“In October, we get some Halley’s Comet debris,” Wooten said. “That’s called the Orionids. Then we’ll have the Leonids coming up in November, and at the very end of the year, probably the best shower of the year will be in mid-December called the Geminids.

Wooten says he realizes that none of the above could happen on Saturday morning, that the meteor shower may be a dud. But, he adds that there’s enough expert opinion that points to the contrary.

Meanwhile, Wooten’s May Stargaze will be Friday night at Fort Pickens’ Battery Worth, starting just after sundown. Wooten says some will be there all night to catch the light show – a production of Comet 209P/Linear, and the planet Jupiter.