The Geminids ain’t over yet! Meteor shower update

Jeff Stephens created this composite of all the Geminids he caught during the peak hours on the morning of December 14th from central Louisiana. His camera faced north. Click for more of Jeff’s images. Credit: Jeff Stephens

An overcast of biblical proportions has hidden the sky at my home for 9 nights in a row. But even without seeing a single Geminid meteor, I can tell you this – the shower’s been fantastic. NASA’s network of all-sky cameras detected more than 200 fireballs and the International Meteor Organization’s quicklook data show a peak of 155 meteors an hour around 10 p.m. (CST) December 13th.

Though past maximum, bits and pieces of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the meteor shower’s parent, will continue to zip through the atmosphere over the next few nights. We may even be see some larger fireballs. The Geminids arrive pre-sorted, with the smallest meteoroids appearing early on, followed by larger crumbs and small rocks later.

Diagram of the inner solar system showing the orbits of Geminid fireballs (and a few other bright meteors) on December 14th. They intersect at the blue dot, which represents Earth, and are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue) based on information from NASA’s all-sky camera network that scans the skies above the U.S. Automated software determines the orbits and other characteristics of the incoming meteors. Credit: NASA/ Bill Cooke

The moon has continued to slim down and is now a crescent rising well after midnight. Best viewing times will be from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. There’s also a decent chance for a small auroral display tonight for the northern U.S. and southern Canada.  You’ll find more about the Geminids HERE.

Zoltan Kenwell got a nice auroral surprise when he stepped out to watch the Geminid meteor shower near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada yesterday morning December 14th. Click to see more of Ken’s aurora photography. Credit: Zoltan Kenwell

Heck of a place to watch a meteor shower … and northern lights. Zoltan Kenwell kicks back and takes it all in Sunday morning. Credit: Zoltan Kenwell

Gaga for the Geminids – 2014′s best meteor shower fires up this weekend

The Geminids peak on both Saturday and Sunday nights this weekend December 13-14. The radiant – where the meteors appear to stream from – lies near Castor and Pollux in Gemini and rises high enough by 9:30 p.m. local time to begin shower watching. Source: Stellarium

Get ready for the year’s best meteor shower. The reliable, rich and colorful Geminids will climax on not one but two nights. Even better, it all happens this weekend before midnight. No arising at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday.

A bright Geminid slices the sky in this time exposure taken on December 13, 2012. Each meteor represents a vaporized fragment of dust or rock lost by asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the Geminids’ parent. Credit: Bob King

Most sources will tell you that we’ll see up to 120 meteors per hour, but 60-80 is more realistic from light polluted location. I’ll take it. That’s plenty of meteors to take the sting out of stepping into the cold. Maximum occurs on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. but that’s near dawn and the moon will be up – not ideal conditions for viewing. That’s why Saturday and Sunday evenings are best.

The Geminids radiate from near the twin bright stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Most major meteor showers don’t really get going until the morning hours because their radiants either haven’t risen or are still too low before midnight. The Geminid radiant on the other hand climbs high enough by 9:30 in the evening to cast a nice spread of meteors before moonrise.

Oh yes, the moon. It rises around midnight Saturday night and 1 a.m. Monday morning. Its light will cut into meteor counts, but since Gemini’s well up in the east before moonrise, we have 2-3 hours of great meteor watching under dark skies.

See what I mean – this shower’s ideal for family viewing since you don’t have to be up too late. It’s also the richest shower of the year, having surpassed the more familiar August Perseids some years ago. Now all we have to do is hope for good weather.

Unlike most meteor showers, which originate with dust spewed by comets, the Geminids are tiny pieces of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, sometimes called a “rock comet”. Here it sprouts a tenuous tail (points to lower left) when near the Sun in this image taken by NASA’s STEREO Sun-observing spacecraft in 2012. Credit: Credit: Jewitt, Li, Agarwal /NASA/STEREO

Observing a meteor shower requires no special equipment outside of a warm coat, heavy gloves, insulated boots, electric sock warmers, hand warmers and one of those plug-in Amish fireplaces. Just kidding of course, but not about the gloves, jacket and boots! Aw, chuck it all and just watch from a hot tub.

I like to lay back in a recliner under a blanket to stay warm and comfortable. A little hot cocoa or tea doesn’t hurt either. Face east or south between 10 and midnight from a reasonably dark sky location and you’re certain to see at least a few Geminids.

The Perseids and many other meteor showers are the spawn of comets. Earth plows through the dust left by vaporizing comet ices and it burns up in the atmosphere as meteors. Every year in mid-November we travel across the orbit of Comet Temple-Tuttle and wow to the Leonids.

Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi will webcast live coverage of the Geminid meteor shower this weeked. Click image for details. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Not so with our featured shower. It and the January Quadrantids are the only major showers with asteroid parents. 3200 Phaethon, a 3.2 mile-wide asteroid that comes surprisingly close to the Sun (13 million miles) and orbits it every 1.4 years, is mama and papa to the Geminids.

Long observed to be nothing more than an inert space rock, in the late 2000s astronomers watched in amazement as Phaethon developed a short, dusty tail.

It’s thought that the intense solar heat during closest approach fractures or pulverizes rocks or it may even open up a pocket of ice long covered by debris. Perhaps Phaethon is an extinct comet or a hybrid mix of ice and rock.

I hope you have clear skies at least one night this weekend. If you do or don’t, you can always check out Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi’s Geminids webcast starting at 8 p.m. CST December 13th (2 a.m. UT Dec. 14) on his Virtual Telescope Project site.

Lively Leonid meteor shower peaks tomorrow, Tuesday

The annual Leonids peak this week. About a dozen per hour will be visible from a dark site. The shower’s known for fireballs that often leave persistant “smoke trails” or trains. Tony Hallas captured two Leonids in a single frame with glowing trains during the 2001 shower. Credit: Tony Hallas

Watch out for flammable comet dust the next few nights. ‘Tis the season of the Leonids. This annual meteor shower, which originates from dust dribbled by comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle, peaks tomorrow and Tuesday mornings November 17-18.

About every 33 years the Leonids produce a spectacular display. This illustration from a newspaper at the time captures the intensity of the shower on November 13, 1833. The next Leonid storm is expected in 2034.

Every 33 years, when the comet swings into the inner solar system, Leonid numbers swell into the hundreds if not thousands per hour and create what’s better described as a meteor storm. The most recent storm unfolded in 2000-2001; now we’re down to the Leonids’ usual peak of 10-15 per hour.

Admittedly, that’s more like a light drizzle than a shower, but what the Leonids lack in numbers in off-years, they make up for in character. Because the Leonid stream travels around the Sun in a direction opposite to the planets, Earth hits Tempel-Tuttle’s debris head-on at very high speed. Leonids pepper the planet at speeds upwards of 158,000 miles per hour (70 km/sec), the fastest of any shower.

They often burn brightly as fireballs and leave glowing streaks of ionized air in their wakes called trains. Upper atmospheric winds can distort and stretch the trains over several minutes time, a sight well worth watching. In 2001, we saw a fair number of these long-lasting “smoke trails” after the appearance of fireballs.


This map shows the sky facing east around 3 a.m. Monday November 17th. The radiant is well-placed near Jupiter in Leo. The thick crescent Moon rises around 2 a.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday. Stellarium

Watching the Leonids is easy as long as you’re willing to wake up in the wee hours. Patience helps too. You may see nothing in the first 10-15 minutes and then all at once a swift blade of light slices the sky. The radiant or point in the sky from which the meteors originate rises around 11:30 p.m. local time in Leo near Jupiter. But the best time to view the shower is from about 3 a.m. till dawn when the radiant is high in the east-southeast.

Both Monday and Tuesday mornings are good for shower watching. Light from the crescent Moon will hardly be a bother. Dress warmly and get comfy under a blanket in a reclining lawn chair facing east or south. Relax back and watch the stars slowly parade above you. Every meteor you see will come both as a pleasant surprise and reminder that Earth is continually touched by comets.

Set the alarm and boil the tea, it’s time for the Orionid meteor shower

The Orionids peak Tuesday and Wednesday mornings Oct. 21-22 next week when an observer might see 20-25 meteors an hour from a dark sky. They’ll appear to radiate above Betelgeuse in northern Orion. Source: Stellarium

The coming week’s menu features a meteoric tossed salad of Taurid fireballs crossing paths with the annual Orionid meteor shower. While the Taurids are a broad, sparse stream coming in dribs and drabs throughout October and November, the Orionids peak on the mornings of October 21-22. Expect to see 20 meteors an hour emanating from a point of sky above the bright star Betelgeuse in the hunter’s shoulder.

Each streak of light you see signals the incineration of a flake of Halley’s Comet, the parent comet of the Orionids. Every year in late October, Earth cuts across Halley’s orbit and bits of dust shed by the comet from previous passes near the sun burn up as they strike the upper atmosphere at speeds of around 148,000 mph.

Composite of a recent Orionid meteor shower taken with an all-sky camera. Credit: NASA

It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen the shower due to clouds or moonlight, but to the patient observer they’re thrilling to watch. Orionids are extremely fast – most tear across the sky in a second or less. Don’t even bother to alert your observing companions if you see one. It’ll be long gone even as the words leave your mouth, though if you’re lucky, some meteors will leave glowing trails of ionized air or even a curl of cosmic smoke (dust) in their wakes.

“The Orionid meteor shower is not the strongest, but it is one of the most beautiful showers of the year,” says Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

Composite photo of an Orionid meteor shower taken a few years ago. The constellation Orion is seen at lower right center. Credit: SLOOH

This year’s shower won’t be compromised by moonlight either. It may even be enhanced by it. On Tuesday morning, a fingernail crescent will attempt to steal the show as it rises in the east at the start of morning twilight. Which brings us to the best time to view the Orionids.

I’ve drawn the map above for 2 a.m. local time. That’s when the radiant is high enough in the sky for a good show to begin, but the hours just before dawn are a tad better as the radiant point is higher yet. The ideal time would be from 3-6 a.m. Find a place where light pollution is at a minimum and set up facing south-southeast for the best view. A comfy reclining chair and blanket or sleeping bag will help you stay relaxed and warm. It is almost November after all!

Night of the four fireballs – Eastern U.S. sees spectacle

Maps showing where the four separate fireballs were seen overnight last night September 24-25, 2014. Fireballs are defined as meteors equal to or brighter than magnitude -3 or between Jupiter and Venus in brightness. Credit: Mike Hankey / AMS

Four different fireball meteors lit up skies across the eastern U.S. last night according to reports received by the American Meteor Society (AMS). Normally, one brilliant fireball might zoom by every week or two, but last night four separate ones all came by within a few hours of each other. While brightness estimates vary a lot, nearly all the reports mention great brilliance and BIG. Many compared them to the full moon and some even to the sun in radiance! These were beauties.

Trajectories of the four fireballs over the eastern U.S. last night. Credit: Mike Hankey / AMS

Here’s a chronological list of their appearance. Times are eastern (EDT) and approximate:

* #1 at 9:30 p.m. over Tennessee, Kentucky Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri
* #2 at 9:47 p.m. over Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania
* #3 at 10:13 p.m. over Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario and Pennsylvania
* #4 at 1:09 a.m. over Florida and Georgia

Despite their brilliance, very few people reported hearing any associated sounds rumbles or explosions. This makes me think that none of the entering meteoroids made it to the ground. If you saw or heard anything at those times, the AMS would love to hear about it. Please enter your report HERE.

I have yet to find any video from security cameras and cellphone captures. If you have any visuals, please also report that on your AMS form. It would also be very helpful to send it to Dirk Ross who runs the Latest Worldwide Meteor/Meteorite News. As usual there are a few silly references to this being some kind of prophecy of doom. This happens every time something remarkable happens in the sky. Last time I looked, we were all still standing.

As to whether four fireballs is purely coincidence or if they might in some way be related (prior breakup before entering Earth’s atmosphere?) it’s very difficult to say. If you look at the trajectories, there are two pairs similar to one another. Hopefully we’ll learn more when video surfaces and more reports are made.

How were the Perseids from your house last night?

Of five Perseids, only one was caught by the camera. It was an unusual meteor that flared twice before burning out. It almost looks like it skipped across the atmosphere like a stone skipping on water. Credit: Bob King

I set the alarm for 2:15 and spent an hour with the Perseids this morning. How many meteors flashed by? Oh, five. But every one was like winning the lottery.

The graph above shows the ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate), which is the number of Perseids an observer would see under a very dark sky with the radiant of the shower at the top of the sky. Counts are shown through 9 p.m. CDT Aug. 12. The trend toward maximum is obvious. Times are Universal Time. Subtract 4 hours for EDT, 5 for CDT, 6 for MDT and 7 for PDT. Credit: IMO

The low number was surprising given that magnitude 4 stars were readily visible. On the up side, all of those I saw were bright and moved incredibly fast like sparks from an arc welder. Preliminary data from the International Meteor Organization shows a peak around 55 meteors an hour yesterday evening (Aug. 12, U.S. time). Counts for the early morning hours still aren’t in yet, so final numbers and shower peak time may change.

Self-portrait with Perseids around 3:15 this morning. Perfect weather, friendly moonlight and cricket song made for a pleasant outing. At top you can see Auriga and the Hyades in Taurus. Credit: Bob King

A reminder that the Perseids will continue to fire off meteors through the remainder of the week, although at a declining rate. With the moon rising later each night, viewing conditions will improve, so be on the lookout for more flaming comet flakes.

Perseid meteors peak tonight!

Multi-photo composite showing Perseid meteors shooting from their radiant point in the constellation Perseus. Earth crosses the orbit of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle every year in mid-August. Debris left behind by the comet burns up as meteors when it strikes our upper atmosphere at 130,000 mph. Credit: NASA

Ready for more celestial enjoyment after the weekend supermoon? Tonight’s the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the year’s two best and most prolific meteor showers. The other, the Geminids, produces a few more meteors per hour but happens in the middle of December when the weather often puts a bite on nighttime activities.

Just two days past full, the moon rises around 9-9:30 p.m. and will be up all night, spreading its less than desired radiance across the sky. No question that fainter Perseids will be lost in the glare, but not the best and brightest. Under ideal conditions – a rural, moonless sky – more than 100 Perseids an hour flash across the sky. But with the moon out, expect closer to 25-30 per hour from a typical suburban location.

You can go out anytime to watch the shower overnight tonight (August 12-13), but you’ll see more meteors if you go out later when the radiant is higher in the sky. Higher is better because fewer meteors get cut off the observer’s horizon. Source: Stellarium

The key to seeing as many as possible is to keep the moon out of view. Set up your lawn chair to face northeast, north or southwest, kick back and wait for the meteors to come to you. Over the years, I’ve noticed that shower meteors often come in bursts. For 5-10 minutes you’ll see a handful or more and then all will go quiet for the next 5 minutes. Hang in there and I guarantee you’ll see at least some Perseids. You’ll now you’re see a genuine shower member if you can trace its path backwards toward the W of Cassiopeia near the location of the shower’s radiant.

Fireballs, those extra-brilliant meteors that shine as bright or brighter than Venus, are no strangers to this shower. Perseids are generally white and move swiftly, often leaving fading ‘smoke streaks’ or trains in their wake. These are hollow tubes of ionized air molecules that have been energized by the meteoroid particle’s passage. As they return to their original ‘relaxed’ or non-ionized state, we see a lingering afterglow.

Keep an eye on any really bright train. Some can linger for minutes and become distorted by upper atmospheric winds.

A Perseid burns up in Earth’s atmosphere photographed in orbit 250 miles up by astronaut Ron Garan on Aug. 13, 2011. The star Arcturus is directly above the meteor trail. Credit: Ron Garan / ISS Expedition 28 crew / NASA

Most meteor shower particles range in size from a small pebble to beach sand and generally weigh less than 1-2 grams or about what a paperclip weighs. They’re fluffy and porous material shed by comets. The main reason something so insubstantial can create such a striking flash of light has to do with its kinetic energy or energy of motion. Perseids scream into the atmosphere at an average speed of 130,000 mph (209,000 kph).

Even a tiny bit of mass can make a big, bright display when it hits the air at such tremendous speed. Think of the difference between being hit by a slow-moving vs. a fast-moving baseball. It stings either way, but the fast one’s worse by far.

Hopefully your weather will be clear tonight. If so, spend an hour with the shower. You’ll see a smattering of meteors in the early evening and more as the night grows long and radiant rises higher. Let us know how you fare in words and pictures (my e-mail:, and I’ll share your observations in an update tomorrow.

Don’t wait – go out now to see the Perseid meteor shower

The annual Perseid meteor shower radiates from a point in the constellation Perseus just below the W of Cassiopeia. Rates are usually around 100-120 meteors per hour from a dark, moonless sky at peak. This map shows the sky facing east around midnight Aug. 12-13. Stellarium

The beloved Perseid meteor shower peaks next Tuesday night August 12-13, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go out right now for a look. Why? Two good reasons.

First, Earth has already entered the meteor stream formed by dust and grit left in the wake of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. I can attest to this. While hardly trying, I spotted a half dozen Perseids after moonset this morning. Second, the nearly full moon will compromise the shower when it’s at its best.

Composite of bright Perseid meteors recorded by NASA all-sky cameras in 2011. Each is a grain rock shed from the tail of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Every year in mid-August, Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail as it orbits around the sun. Any particles we smack into burn up as meteors some 60-70 miles overhead. Credit: NASA

Between now and Friday morning, the moon will set before the start of dawn, leaving skywatchers a dark, moonless window of meteor watching. You might be surprised and see more than you expected. I did.

Come August 12, when the number of meteors peak, a nearly full moon will be up all night compromising the fainter meteors. That doesn’t mean you should abandon viewing that night. Just be aware that you’ll probably see closer to 30 per hour instead of the higher number.

The moon, two days past full, will brighten the sky during the Perseid peak. This view shows the sky facing east around midnight Aug. 12-13. Stellarium

If you’re OK with losing a little sleep sometime in the next few nights, set the alarm for 2-3 a.m., face east or south and relax for an hour under the sky as the Perseids fly by.

Camelopardalid meteor show more a trickle than a storm

A bright Camelopardalid meteor flashes across the sky near the Cassiopeia-Andromeda border this morning (May 24). Credit: Bob King

I could have stayed up all night. Wait a minute, I did. On the way home after hours of meteor watching I stopped the car on the empty road and got out to admire the crescent moon. It was 3:30 and already dawn brightened the northeast sky.

A long-trailed Cam tears across the Milky Way inside the Summer Triangle asterism late last night May 23. Credit: Bob King

From e-mails, online reports and my own 3-hour vigil staring into one of the most beautiful star-studded skies in months, the ‘Cams’ weren’t the spectacle we anticipated. Many skywatchers sacrificed sleep to stand outside in the small hours of the morning and saw at best a handful. Some none at all.

The train from the near-fireball Cam seen at 12:34 a.m. CDT this Saturday morning. The five bright stars outlining the W of Cassiopeia are seen at right. Credit: Bob King

One of our readers aptly called it a ‘meteor sprinkle’. At first I thought we were in for the real deal when a near-fireball meteor blazed from the radiant to the right of Cassiopeia at 12:34 CDT. If this was the start of the shower, what a way to begin! Tinted orange like a fall maple and traveling very slowly, the meteor left a trail (called a train in meteor lingo) that lasted more than 20 minutes.

Not only did I have plenty of time to make a half dozen 2.5 minute time exposures of the expanding train but also got to view it in my telescope. The ghostly snake was definitely one of the coolest temporary nebulas I’ve ever seen.

Sequence of photos showing the expanding and fading train over the next 15 minutes. Credit: Bob King

Trains form when a meteoroid’s hypersonic velocity through the upper atmosphere ionizes or excites the atoms in the air along the object’s path. Soon enough the atoms take back their electrons, releasing light in the process. We see all this subatomic tit for tat as a bright streak that slowly fades from view. Trains expand and change shape depending on the vagaries of upper atmospheric winds. Absolutely fascinating to watch.

Like many of you I kept vigil for the next few hours, hoping for more Cams as the rising Milky Way became ever more spectacular. But the shower really never showered. I saw 10 total plus a few sporadic (random) meteors. Nearly all were slow-movers as predicted; the brighter ones were tinted yellow and orange.

Contrary to predictions, I saw more meteors before the expected 2 a.m. CDT (7 UT) peak. The hour from 2-3 a.m. proved anti-climactic. Before turning in for the night, one ‘farewell Cam’ flashed above the North Star just about the time the first robin burst into song.

Before starting my meteor watch I checked out the shower’s parent comet 209P/LINEAR. It’s a rare treat indeed to have the ‘mother ship’ nearby the same time its progeny dart to Earth. The comet had brightened a bit and even showed a tiny tail visible in 12-inch and larger telescopes.

A strange aurora-like trail drifts across the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper this morning. The starlike object at its center moved northward during the time exposure and looks like a streak inside the cloud. Credit: Bob King

While the Camelopardalids disappointed many I bet those who did go out got some mental refreshment just from sky gazing. I know I did … and a little bit more. Around 1 a.m. I looked over my shoulder toward Leo and the Big Dipper and nearly stumbled to the ground. What looked like a huge meteor train 15-20 degrees long drifted across a cloudless sky. In its center was a bright disk of light about the size of the moon and in the center of that a starlike object.

The trail, likely connected to the launch of a new Japanese mapping satellite expands and fades minutes later. You never know what you might see when you look up at night. Credit: Bob King

Quickly I reset the camera and got a couple shots off as the apparition drifted at slow-satellite speed to the north. The ray fanned out and lingered like a lone beam of northern lights for the next 10 minutes. Fortunately I wasn’t abducted. This morning I learned that the sight was connected to fuel dump after the launch of a Japanese mapping satellite.

I’ll update the blog later today or tomorrow with more information about the shower as it becomes available. And a little sleep wouldn’t hurt either.

The sky is falling! Surprise meteor shower may strike Saturday morning

A brand new meteor shower shooting 100 and potentially as many as 400 meteors an hour may radiate from the dim constellation Camelopardalis below the North Star Saturday morning May 24. This map shows the sky facing north around 2 a.m. from the central U.S. Saturday.  Stellarium

Get ready for what could be the most awesome meteor shower of the year. On Saturday morning May 24 between 1 and 4 a.m. skywatchers across much of North America are in prime position to witness the birth of a brand new meteor shower – the Camelopardalids. At least 100 meteors per hour and possibly as many as 400 meteors per hour are expected with a peak viewing time around 2 a.m. Central Daylight Time. Short but sweet!

If predictions by meteor experts Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and Esko Lyyttinen of Finland hold true, that morning, Earth will pass through multiple filaments of sand and pebble-sized debris trails boiled off comet 209P/LINEAR during previous passages near the sun during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The comet was only discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) automated sky survey. Unlike Comet Hale-Bopp and the late Comet ISON that swing by the sun once every few thousand years or million years, this one drops by every 5.1 years.

When closest at perihelion, 209P/LINEAR passes some 90 million miles from the sun. At the far end of its orbit it’s about Jupiter’s distance from the sun. In 2012, during a relatively close pass of that planet, Jupiter perturbed its orbit, bringing the comet and its debris trails to within 280,000 miles (450,000 km) of Earth’s orbit, close enough to spark a meteor shower.

When a comet nears the sun, heat vaporizes dust-laden ices from the comet’s nucleus. The solar wind ‘blows’ the dust particles into a tail which spread out along the comet’s orbit. Under the right circumstances, as with returning comet 209P/LINEAR, Earth can pass through the debris stream and we see a meteor shower as comet grit burns up in the atmosphere.

This time around, the comet itself will fly just 5 million miles from Earth on May 29 a little more than 3 weeks after perihelion, making it the 9th closest comet encounter ever observed.

You’d think this close pass would make 209P a bright sight, but it’s only predicted to reach magnitude +11, faint enough to require an 8-inch or larger telescope to see. Most likely the comet is either very small or producing dust at a very low rate or both.

Next week I’ll post maps here on how to find it. For the moment, 209P/LINEAR glows dimly at around magnitude +14 and visible in large amateur telescopes. As it speeds from the Big Dipper south to Crater the Cup over the next couple weeks, we’ll be watching it closely. Check here for updates if the comet experiences any hiccups.

The shaded area shows where the shower will be visible on May 23-24. North of the red line, the moon (a thick crescent) will be up during shower maximum around 2 a.m. CDT May 24. Click for more details. Credit: Mikhail Maslov

Meteors from 209P/LINEAR are expected to be bright and slow with speeds around 40,000 mph compared to an average of 130,000 mph for the Perseids. Most shower meteoroids are minute specks of rock, but the Camelopardalids (Cam-el-o-PAR-duh-lids) – let’s just call them ‘Cams’ –  contain a significant number of particles larger than 1mm, big enough to flare as fireballs.

Viewers in the northern half of the U.S. and southern Canada have the best seats for watching the potential shower because the radiant is midway up in the northern sky during peak viewing time Saturday morning. For points farther north, all-night twilight will blot out the fainter meteors. For observers in the far southern U.S. the radiant will be low in the northern sky, reducing meteor counts.

There’s always the chance the shower won’t materialize, so prepare yourself for that possibility. At worst we may see zero meteors, but even the most conservative estimates predict a show at least as good as the Perseids and Geminids, two of the strongest showers of the year.

But if you’re an optimist – and what skywatcher can’t afford not to be? – plan to be out before the peak and face north in a comfortable lawn chair. Bring a friend and share a cup of your favorite hot drink while you watch this ultimate wild card event.

Shower observing times across Canada and U.S.:

* Eastern Daylight Time 1:30-5 a.m. with the peak around 3 a.m.

* Central Daylight Time 12:30-4 a.m. with a 2 a.m. peak

* Mountain Daylight Time 11:30-3 a.m. with a 1 a.m. peak

* Pacific Daylight Time 10:30-2 a.m. with a peak at midnight

The dark “finger” represents streams of dust and rocks left behind by 209P/LINEAR during passes made from 1803 to 1924. Earth is shown intersecting the debris on May 23-24, 2014. Click for more details. Credit: Dr. Jeremie Vaubaillon

If it’s cloudy or you’re not in the sweet zone for viewing, the SLOOH will cover comet 209P/LINEAR live on the Web with its telescopes on the Canary Islands starting at 5 p.m. CDT (6 p.m. EDT, 4 p.m. MDT and 3 p.m. PDT) May 23 Follow-up live coverage of the new meteor shower starts at 10 p.m. CDT. The broadcast will feature astronomer Bob Berman of Astronomy Magazine; viewers can ask questions during the comet show by using hashtag #slooh.

Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi will also have a live feed of the comet at the Virtual Telescope Project website scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. Greenwich Time) May 22. A second meteor shower live feed will start at 12:30 a.m. CDT (5:30 a.m. Greenwich Time) Friday night/Saturday morning May 24.

No matter what, you’re covered. Later this week I’ll update with a forecast and fresh comet photos and observations. Cross your fingers!