Meteor showers: 5 facts for stargazers
Xiaoli Li , CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Friday, May 23, 2014 3:20PM EDT
The Camelopardalid meteor shower is expected to light up the early morning sky on Saturday.
Debris from a passing comet will enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up in a spectacular light show.
It's not just of interest to astronomers, however. If you're taking in this weekend's light show, here are five fun facts about the meteor shower.
The Camelopardalid meteor shower is a relatively rare occurrence: a completely new meteor shower.
While stargazers have seen meteors caused by other comets in the past - like that of Perseids, which happens every August - this is Camelopardalid's debut.
"A spectacular meteor shower like this that pops up out of the blue, that's a very rare thing," Bill Cooke, lead of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office told CTV News Channel on Friday.
The comet responsible for the meteor shower was only discovered in 2004, and this is the first time debris from it will enter the Earth's orbit.
There's no chance of the Camelopardalids, or any other meteor shower going unnoticed. The shower will last up to nine hours, peaking between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. in Ontario. In addition, there's a series of all-sky video systems across the country, set up to detect bright fireballs like those caused by meteors.
Meteor showers and other bits of debris in space can represent a real danger to astronauts and spacecraft.
"These things fly in, they're moving something like between 15 and 20 kilometres a second," science reporter Ivan Semeniuk, told CTV's Canada AM.
Bill Cooke said meteor showers aren't just pretty, but very useful tools to help NASA predict when a meteor shower will happen.
"Getting good at predicting meteor activity, is something we do, if nothing else, to protect the safety of our craft," Cooke said.
No tools needed
You don't need any special telescopes or binoculars to take in a meteor shower. In fact, you don't need any kind of telescope, or equipment at all. Just a clear sky.
"The best way to view a meteor shower (is to) simply go outside, lie on your back, look straight up and take in as much sky as possible," Cooke said
You should, however, head outside about 30 minutes ahead of time to give your eyes time to adjust.
Most Canadians are in a key location to observe the Camelopardalid meteor shower, as the shower will pass through the Northern hemisphere and be just above the horizon for much of the country.
Under ideal conditions, observers should be able to see as much as 70 per cent of the peak showers. But there might not be much of a view.
"There could be a great meteor shower or a complete dud," NASA said in a statement released earlier this month.
"Nobody's had any past data. Photographs, records, data, anything," Colin Haig, vice-president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada told CTV News Channel.
"We have no idea what we’re going to see Saturday morning," Cooke said.
A piece of the action
If you want to see some meteors up close, the Royal Ontario Museum has hundreds of meteorites in its Teck Suite of Galleries, and offers free identification clinics for suspected meteorites six times a year.
If you'd like to own one of your own, check eBay. The auction site has over 7,000 meteorites up for grabs, with prices going as high as $100,000.