SOUTHERN UTAH – This weekend, stargazers could get the opportunity of a lifetime – or not.
From Friday night through Saturday morning, the Camelopardalid meteor shower is being forecast to show itself in the night sky with as many as 500 meteors per hour – but the predicted meteor shower could either be the greatest thing stargazers have ever seen or a whole lot of nothing.
“It is a prediction, because they don’t know until it happens,” said Brent Bennett, of the SouthWest Science Foundation and the Utah Chapter of the International Dark Sky Association. “But it could be the best meteor shower that anyone will see in their lifetime.”
The Camelopardalid shower is being called a “possible” new and very active meteor shower because scientists don’t know for sure what it will do and how much spectators will be able to see.
“The bottom line with all meteor showers, even the ones that come every year: You never know what they’re going to do,” Bennett said.
But whether or not the meteor shower ends up showing itself as spectacularly as astronomers hope, Bennett said the possibility of seeing a shower of this magnitude is worth losing a little sleep.
“I think it’ll either be very good or unbelievably great,” he said.
The Camelopardalid meteor shower will be best viewed between 2-4 a.m. on Saturday, but Bennett said people could begin seeing action from the shower as early as 10 p.m. Friday. If the shower manifests itself, visibility will start to increase between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, and the shower should remain visible until around 5 a.m. Saturday.
Bennett said those not wanting to stay up late should still go outside Friday night and see as much as they can.
“With a meteor shower, as soon as it gets dark, go outside and see what you can see,” he said.
Scientists only recently determined that Earth will likely pass through the tail and debris of comet 209P/LINEAR this weekend, according to Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of the Arkansas Sky Observatories.
Comet 209P/Linear was first discovered in 2004 and has been orbiting the sun since at least the early 1800s. If all goes well, this weekend will be the first time Earth passes through its debris.
The predicted meteor shower is being called Camelopardalid because, if and when it shows itself, it will appear to be originating from the Camelopardalis constellation – though the stars making up that constellation are, in reality, very far away from Earth and the meteor shower is much closer.
“It’s nothing to do with the stars,” Bennett said. “They’re local things, you know – meteors. They are grains of sand and debris coming from comets.”
Aside from the imprecision of meteor shower predictability, Bennett said the weekend weather forecast for Southern Utah could hinder local people’s view of the Camelopardalid shower. He’s been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and said he hopes the clouds and possible rain will bypass Southern Utah.
“Southern Utah may be the worst place in the world to be,” he said, laughing.
But if weather conditions are clear, Bennett said stargazers hoping for a celestial eyeful should face north and look straight up into the sky to get a good view of the meteor shower.
“From what I’ve observed over the years, it’s pretty likely there will be some meteors,” he said. “It’s very unlikely it will be a total fizzle and nobody will see anything with the amount of debris the Earth is passing through.”
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