Saturday, May 24, 2014

Camelopardalid Meteor "Storm" More Like a Sprinkle

Camelopardalid meteor and the star, Regulus (c) John Ashley
A Camelopardalid meteor streaks between rain clouds and Regulus, the brightest star in constellation, Leo

"Note to sky watchers: That's not what a meteor storm looks like."

After weeks of build-up, that's how the everything-sky-related website,, meekly reported on this morning's Camelopardalid meteor shower. What many of us hoped would be the meteor-shower-of-a-lifetime, with predictions of 100-400 meteors per hour, turned out to be more of a light sprinkle of 5-10 per hour. And across much of the northwest, even those meteors were mostly hidden above layers of low and high clouds.

Camelopardalid meteor and iridium flare (c) John Ashley
Iridium flare (left) and faint meteor near center (click to enlarge)
Without driving to central Montana, the lowest cloud cover forecast I could find was 75-85% over West Glacier. But rain moved in at 10 p.m., so I headed northwest, over to Big Prairie in the North Fork Valley, a few miles north of Polebridge.

While setting up the cameras at midnight, I saw two excellent meteors, one north and one south. Oh boy, it's really starting, I thought. Those turned out to be the two best sightings of the night, and all I captured from them were memories.

My window to the stars kept getting smaller and smaller, and by 2 a.m. the sky was blotted out again and raindrops were splatting on my dusty windshield. The meteor shower was supposed to last into the dawn, but my night ended early. But that's okay, I never learned how to pronounce, "Camelopardalid," anyway.

Hidden among my several hundred timelapse frames from this morning were lots of satellite streaks, a handful of meteors, two airplanes and one really nice iridium flare. That's pretty much what you'll see over Montana on any clear night. But like I told my old park ranger friend at 6 a.m., a bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office.

That reminds me. The comet that left the dust that created this meteor event, 209P/Linear, will make its closest pass by Earth this Thursday, the 29th. Hmmm. I better go check that cloud cover forecast again.