SETI scientist will observe meteor shower from above the clouds

May 23, 2014

SETI Institute scientist Peter Jenniskens first predicted the May 23 Camelopardalid meteor shower 10 years ago. He is now ready to solve the mystery of the comet's past activity.

This never before seen meteor shower would be caused by debris shed by Comet 209P/Linear as it passed through the inner solar system every 5 years during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Scientists want to know how such comets behave over time as they cause many of our .

The SETI Institute will send Jenniskens and his observing team to the skies above 20,000 feet to observe the event above the clouds and atmospheric dust. Jenniskens will also study the shower with his autonomous meteor shower surveillance stations at Lick Observatory, Fremont Peak Observatory and in Sunnyvale. The flight will originate from Palo Alto, Calif. at 10:30 PM PDT, head towards Seattle, and return to Palo Alto approximately four hours later.

Extraordinary Sight

Friday night's encounter with the debris will shed light on the mystery of whether the comet was active in the past. Depending on that answer, the shower could be a spectacular display, or a no-show informing us that the comet moved through the centuries in tact, shedding little debris for us to observe. Either outcome is scientifically important.

The best viewing time for the possible shower is a narrow time interval between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. EDT, and between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. PDT the night of Friday, May 23. The meteor shower will be streamed and archived through the following sites:

  • SETI Institute Meteor Site: http://meteor.seti.org
  • Ustream: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/cal-astro
This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
If you look up in the sky on May 23rd, you may be able to see some meteors similar to the ones in the video. Peter Jenniskens, SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, filmed these meteors with low light video cameras as part of the Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance project (CAMS) in early June of 2011 and 2012. The cameras have a field of view of 30 degrees wide and 20 degrees high. These meteors belong to a weak shower called the sigma Ursae Majorids (number 677 with code "SIM" in the IAU Meteor Shower Working list), a new shower detected by CAMS. They move in an orbit similar to that of 209P/Linear, but are seen annually in the period June 6-14. They may represent older dust ejecta from the comet. These meteors look much the same as those from the possible 2014 May 23/24 meteor shower of May Camelopardalids, anticipated from the close encounter of 209P/Linear with Earth that month. That shower has not been seen before.


Explore further: Live webcast of Comet LINEAR and new meteor shower, 23-24 May

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