Rumor has it that there’s going to be a brand new meteor shower this Friday night/Saturday morning (May 23-24). While there are quite a few easily visible meteor showers every year, a new, never-before-seen meteor shower is quite an event. As Comet 209P/LINEAR makes a close pass through Earth’s orbit, the Camelopardalids meteor shower will appear in the night sky for the first time.
The Camel Leopard
The shower is named for the constellation Camelopardalis, from which the visible meteors will radiate. Named for the Ancient Roman “camel leopard,” now known as the giraffe, this somewhat obscure constellation can be seen just “south” of the Little Dipper, essentially straight down toward the horizon from the North Star.
Now, because it’s new, no one knows for sure quite when the Camelopardalids shower will peak, but from what most experts can tell, it will be around 2-4 AM EDT (1-3 CDT). Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to watch it unfold live and in person, because a meteor shower can be a very beautiful thing.
If you’ve got wee ones who you’re going to let stay up, or wake up, for the Camelopardalids (or any meteor shower), you can do this quick and easy lil’ science demonstration to explain what causes a meteor shower…sort of.
All you need is a 2-liter soda bottle with the label removed and filled most of the way with water—to a little lower than where the full level of soda was—and half an Alka Seltzer tablet. (What you do with the two liters of soda and other half of the Alka Seltzer is completely up to you.) Simply drop the tablet into the bottle and watch as it leaves a trail of bubbles/meteors on the way down.
And the Science?
All comets drag a trail of dust, or tail, behind them as they travel—that’s what makes them visible and differentiates them from boring ol’ asteroids. When Comet 209P/LINEAR (LIncoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research) passes by the earth, it is travelling at tremendous speeds, as is its tail.
As bits and pieces of this tail enter Earth’s atmosphere, the atmosphere itself causes friction. This friction, in turn, heats up the comet dust and burns it up. These burning dust particles create the bright streaks of light—meteors—that we see in the dark, nighttime sky.
The “dust particles” in a comet’s tail can actually be quite large (the Alka Seltzer tablet). When they hit the atmosphere, they break up into smaller and smaller pieces (the bubbles).
- 365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials, E. Richard Churchill, Louis V. Loeschnig, Muriel Mandell, and Frances Zweifel, 1997. ISBN 978-1884822674