Butler County Times Gazette
  • Looking Up: Nice, new meteor shower expected

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  • By Peter Becker
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    If it is clear the night of May 23-24, take a look for what may be an unusually strong and brand-new meteor shower.
    Meteors, commonly known as "shooting stars," mostly come together in streams of dust particles and larger bits of rock. They have a path of their own around the sun, and whenever Earth passes by or through one of these streams, we are bombarded.
    Most meteor showers are weak, producing only a few an hour that you might see under good conditions. A few large showers, like the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December, send 50 to 100 an hour, at tops.
    Rare events send hundreds, and in extremely rare showers, thousands. The latter have created panic and conversions, as well as just plain awe.
    Comets generally are the source of material for meteor streams. In this case, a tiny periodic comet known as 209P.LINEAR will come unusually near the Earth. Although the comet is only expected to be as bright as 10th-11th magnitude, requiring a 3-inch telescope or larger to detect it, the Earth is due to catch a good supply of debris in the comet's wake.
    Astronomers are cautious to predict just how strong the shower may be. Low estimates are about 100 an hour.
    Meteor showers seem to radiate from a certain area in the sky; they are usually named for the constellation from which they appear. This shower will radiate within a few degrees of Polaris, the North Star.
    The actual radiant is within the dim constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe.
    You won't have to look north; meteors will cross any part of the sky, but if you trace them backwards to near Polaris, you can assume they are part of this shower. They are expected to be mostly bright and slow moving.
    The farther north you live, the more meteors you might see. The higher the radiant is in the sky, the more meteors will cross the sky. Pick an an area with a broad, open view, away from neighborhood or town lights, as much as possible. Binoculars and telescopes are not needed- just your wide open eyes!
    Patience is very much a virtue to enjoy a meteor shower. Because of so many conditions that may limit them, you could wait several minutes before you see one. Then you could see two or three right after each other. You never know, and they never become less startling or wondrous
    For any meteor shower, laying back in a lawn chair will make prolonged viewing much easier. Bug spray is a very good idea. Just don't mistake any lightning bugs for meteors!
    Last-quarter moon is on May 21.
    Tell me if you see any. E-mail news@neagle.com.
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