The Camelopardalid meteor shower on May 23rd and 24th was predicted to be a spectacular display with up to 200 meteors per hour at the peak of the storm. Unfortunately, the shower failed to live up that forecast. Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer with the SETI Institute, counted only 21 faint meteors in two hours while flying in an observation plane. What wiped out the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower and its parent, Comet 209P/Linear?
Jenniskens and his colleague Esko Lyytinen predicted the Camelopardalid shower in 2004. It’s named for the constellation Camelopardalid (The Giraffe) which it appears to emanate from and is all that remains of the weak Comet 209P/LINEAR, which was discovered in 2004 and orbits the sun once every five years.
In the latest issue of the Journal of the International Meteor Organization, Jenniskens gives his explanation for the disappearance of the Camelopardalid meteors.
Our best meteor was no more luminous than the star Vega, but it gave us a clue as to why there were few bright ones: It was so fragile that the meteoroid suddenly dispersed into a cloud of dust at the end of its trajectory.
Cometary dust grains can be embedded with ice that causes them to disintegrate when heated, but Jenniskens says Comet 209P/LINEAR was a weak comet not known for its ice content. A more likely reason is that the meteors were just too old and couldn’t survive another trip through space.
The meteoroids may have simply been too frail to survive ejection, or the larger meteoroids could have been lost in the many years since they were ejected. We may have been just a few centuries late in catching a good show. The shower we saw was just a faint memory of what once was there.
Don’t cry for the Camelopardalids. Instead, watch for the Delta Aquarid meteor shower on July 29-30 in the Southern Hemisphere and the always popular Perseid meteor shower on August 10-13 in the Northern Hemisphere.