Our favorite orbital partner the moon will join us for the hoped-for Camelopardalid meteor shower Friday night-Saturday morning May 23-24. While any shards of comet debris will flash to incandescence in Earth’s atmosphere, particles striking the airless moon will appear as faint flashes of light when they smack the lunar rocks and vaporize.
Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office suggests that anyone with a telescope should monitor the moon until dawn. The meteor shower is expected to peak in Earth’s skies around 2 a.m. CDT (3 a.m. Eastern, 1 a.m. Mountain and midnight Pacific). On the moon, activity is possible between 9:30 p.m. CDT Friday night through 6 a.m. Saturday morning (2:30-11 a.m. Greenwich Time) with a peak from 1-3 a.m. CDT (6-8 a.m. Greenwich).
East Coast skywatchers are favored as the moon is up in the eastern sky around the time of maximum. But the time spread means that anyone from Western Europe across the U.S. could potentially spot a flash. You’ll need a 4-inch or larger telescope magnifying between 40-100x. Higher powers aren’t necessary as they restrict the field of view.
I can’t say how easy it would be to catch one but it will take patience and attention. That’s why the favored method for capturing views of lunar impacts is a video camera hooked up to a telescope set to automatically track the moon. That way you can kick back and examine your results later in the light of day. Seeing a meteor hit live would truly be the experience of a lifetime.
As a crescent, much of the moon will be in shadow – perfect for checking for flashes which would otherwise impossible to spot on the brilliant, sunlit crescent. Earthlight will faintly illuminate the remaining 2/3 of the moon, making for a nice dark backdrop against which to see any meteorite strikes.
If you’re into photography and plan to shoot stills or video of the meteor shower and lunar impacts, Brook Brooke Boen (firstname.lastname@example.org) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center would love to hear from you. Please send any images or video to her e-mail. Your observations will help astronomers better understand the birth and evolution of this brand new meteor shower.