New meteor shower expected in skies over Canada
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, May 22, 2014 11:04AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:56PM EDT
Canadians looking for something to do in the wee hours of Saturday morning should head out to the yard and look up, as scientists predict that’s when new meteor shower will illuminate the night sky.
The meteor shower will be the first from a comet with the rather clunky moniker of 209P/LINEAR, so-named for the group that discovered it.
While it’s not expected to be spectacularly bright, associate professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario Paul Wiegert expects some kind of light show. And the average onlooker doesn’t need a telescope or binoculars to see it.
“The meteors will be shooting across the sky and they will appear to be coming from somewhere below the North Star,” Wiegert told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview from London, Ont.
“So if you can orient yourself to the little dipper and look roughly in that direction, you should see meteors coming from that part of the sky.”
City-dwellers will have a more difficult time seeing the meteor shower, so keen observers should get away from the city lights to a darker location, he says.
Weather permitting, peak viewing time will be between 11 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday on the West Coast, between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Saturday in Ontario and Quebec, and between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Saturday in the Maritimes.
The only region of Canada where the shower won’t be visible is the Far North, where it will still be daylight.
Unlike other meteor showers such as the Perseid, which is visible every August, this is the first time this meteor shower will be seen from Earth, Wiegert says.
The reason it is visible this year is that as comets travel around the sun, their flight path is not exactly the same every time. Wiegert says the gravitational pull from different planets, among other factors, can change the comet’s path.
Earth will essentially pass through the trail of small rocks that surround the comet, called meteoroids, creating the celestial light show.
“When these little rocks hit the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up because they are actually travelling very quickly and they create what we call a meteor shower,” Wiegert says.
Scientists don’t expect this meteor shower to become an annual event. But it should appear a handful of times over the next decade, Wiegert says.
This meteor shower has drawn the interest of an international team of meteor experts, who have descended on London, Ont. to observe the light show.
The team will travel to Western’s observatory about a half-hour north of the city, where they have special cameras for observing meteors, as well as radar that detects meteors day or night, rain or shine.
While the scientists don’t expect any bits of meteoroid to fall to the ground, they hope that observing the shower will help them unlock some of the secrets comets hold.
Comets are “very exciting scientifically” for two reasons, Wiegert says.
“One is, it would cost you billions and billions of dollars to send a spacecraft out to an asteroid or comet and pick up a bit and bring it back. But meteors arrive essentially for free.”
Secondly, comets have a deep connection to the origins of the Earth and life on Earth, Wiegert says. For instance, scientists believe they contributed to much of the water that is found on Earth. When comets crashed into the Earth in its early days, Wiegert says, they left their abundant water content behind.
“So comets contain a lot of secrets that we don’t yet know and we’re hoping this meteor shower’s going to tell us a little bit more about it.”