Sky is full of surprises

A Camelopardalid meteor and (one of) its prediction maker. Dr. Albert, the icon of the E.F. Fox Observatory, can be seen in background.

A Camelopardalid meteor and (one of) its prediction maker. Dr. Albert, the icon of the E.F. Fox Observatory, can be seen in background.

Before going to E.F. Fox Observatory for monitoring the Camelopardalids outburst, I felt I would be very happy no matter my co-prediction is right or wrong. However, as always, sky (like life) is full of surprises and rewards and they often come in a way that is beyond our imagination.

Sebastian and I left London at 5 pm EDT. It was overcast at first but soon cleared up. We arrived the E.F. Fox Observatory shortly before 9 pm. John Hlynialuk from the Bluewater Astronomical Society was already there. E.F. Fox Observatory is located in a dark sky preserve in Bruce Peninsula, I estimate the Bortle class to be 3 based on the experience this night. Two Polish observers arrived later and started preparing their multi-station video observations. There were several local amateur astronomers as well.

We went to a nearby small town to grab something to eat and returned to the observatory at about 10:40 pm EDT or 0240Z. I saw two Camelopardalids within one minute as I walked from the parking lot to the observatory — each at 0–1 magnitude with characteristic slow speed and very noticeable train. This raised my hope for a great performance later in the night, as it was still 4 hours from the predicted peak.

In the next 2 hours I was mingling around and saw near half-dozen Camelopardalids in the process — oh, I probably should be smarter and start doing observations right away! I didn’t, because I think that since I need to drive 4 hours in the next morning, I should save my energy for the second half of the night. Sebastian was taking pictures with his DSLR and I think he at least captured 2–3 bright Camelopardalids in the process. At around 12:40 am (0440Z) I saw four Camelopardalids in a little bit more than 1 minute! But again, unfortunately I decided to take a nap right away (!) so that I would be fully prepared for the “show”. Ackkkkk……

So I started standard visual observation at 1:37 am (0537Z). I did this more or less for fun, because I know CMOR and CAMO will be watching anyway. I need a new pair of glasses (I almost cannot tell that Mizar-Alcor is a visual binary!) so my LM isn’t high, only at about 5.5.

I had 50 min. of efficient observation time in the first hour (0537Z-0634Z) and recorded 9 Camelopardalids. No fireballs, but they were all very slow and flew pass the sky very elegantly. From 2:34 am (0634Z) I decided to observe non-stop to nautical twilight (about 4 am). I saw 4 from 2:34 to 2:54 am, with a -1 magnitude bright one with yellowish train that brought us quite a bit of “wow”s (that was the best one of the night). The peak should be around 3 am, so I was anticipating something… but I was wrong. I saw two from 2:54 to 3:10 am, then in the next half an hour I saw none. A +3 Camelopardalid meteor emerged around 3:40 am concluded the whole night.

Why the heck was happening? It seems the peak must be either a few hours early, or is too faint to be seen visually. Based on very preliminary data, I personally inclined to the former. Around 12:30 am I noticed a very strong radiant on CMOR’s real-time activity map (not the one on NASA, that one just got updated once a day), but the strength of the radiant does not seem to elevate much afterwards (implying the radiant has weaken since that map is an accumulative map). The all-sky camera system run by our group (which can only detected meteors up to +0 or so) also picked up as much as four bright Camelopardalids from 0250-0450Z (before 1 am) ranging from -3 to -1 magnitude (absolute), but only one afterwards.

So here is the funny part: personally I was inclining to other researchers’ prediction in terms of peak time, i.e. 0710-0740 UT. However, at least for now, it seems Paul and I’s prediction seems to be closer to what we got. Mother Nature is good at teasing people, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the very preliminary IMO visual analysis (the visual peak seems to occur at about 0630Z with ZHR~15 as retrieved on May 24 at 6 pm EDT) and RMOB real-time analysis (the peak at 0630Z with ZHR~35 as retrieved on May 24 at 6 pm EDT) also shows an early peak but not as much as my impression with my visual observation and the results from CAMO.

Hmm, it may not a great event in the sense of a meteor storm, but I still find it very fascinating. It seems our predictions must have missed something. There has to be a reason and I want to find it out.

So below is my visual IMO report:

// Header section
night 2014-05-23/24
begin 2014-05-24 0537
end 2014-05-24 0800
observer "Quan-Zhi" "Ye" "YE_QU"
location 81 13 50 W, 44 44 20 N
site "E.S. Fox Observatory" "Canada"
reporter ""

// Shower section
shower CAM 122 +78
shower SPO

// Number section
// Interval RA Dec Teff F Lm CAM SPO
period 0537-0551 315 +45 0.233 1.00 5.64 C 3 - /
period 0554-0613 315 +45 0.316 1.00 5.39 C 5 - /
period 0617-0634 315 +45 0.283 1.00 5.58 C 1 - /
period 0634-0654 315 +45 0.333 1.00 5.06 C 4 - /
period 0654-0710 315 +45 0.266 1.00 5.58 C 2 - /
period 0710-0726 315 +40 0.266 1.00 5.58 C 0 - /
period 0728-0745 315 +40 0.283 1.00 5.58 C 1 - /
period 0747-0800 315 +40 0.216 1.00 5.06 C 0 - /

// Magnitude section
// Show Interval -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 +0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 Tot

// Personal comments
Magnitudes and SPOs not recorded.

OK, to conclude: my ZHR prediction seems to be about right, but lots of questions are to be answered. For myself, I also got a gift which I am quite happy about: I thought about take a photo of myself and a Camelopardalid meteor, but I wanted to do observation and didn’t have time to try to wait for one, so I ended up just put the camera on the table and take a photo of myself and the observatory (the photo above). And this morning I realized there is indeed a Camelopardalid meteor on that photo! The very same meteor was also captured by our all-sky camera system allowing orbit to be calculated, so it is definitely a Camelopardalid based on the orbit. Aha 😉 there are always great things coming along in astronomy and as I love to say, go out and take a look or you never know 😉

Acknowledgement: we thank John Hlynialuk for hosting us at the observatory.