Camel Leopards and Comets


It’s a strange-sounding name for a constellation, coming from the Greco-Roman word for giraffe, or “camel leopard”. The October Camelopardalids are a collection of faint stars that have no mythology associated with them — in fact, they didn’t begin to appear on star charts until the 17th century.

Even experienced amateur astronomers are hard-pressed to find the constellation in the night sky. But in early October, it comes to prominence in the minds of meteor scientists as they wrestle with the mystery of this shower of meteors, which appears to radiate from the giraffe’s innards.

The October Camelopardalids are not terribly spectacular, with only a handful of bright meteors seen on the night of Oct. 5. It may have been first noticed back in 1902, but definite confirmation had to wait until Oct. 2005, when meteor cameras videotaped 12 meteors belonging to the shower. Moving at a speed of 105,000 miles per hour, Camelopardalids ablate, or burn up, somewhere around 61 miles altitude, according to observations from the NASA allsky meteor cameras on the night of Oct. 5, 2010.

So they aren’t spectacular. Their speed is calculated. Their “burn up” altitudes and orbits are known. So what’s the mystery?

Camelopardalids have orbits, which indicates that they come from a long period comet, like Halley’s Comet. But the Camelopardalids don’t come from Halley, nor from any of the other comets that have been discovered. Hence the mystery: somewhere out there is — or was — a comet that passes close to Earth which has eluded detection. These tiny, millimeter size bits of ice leaving pale streaks of light in the heavens are our only clues about a comet of a mile, maybe more, in diameter.

This is why astronomers keep looking at the Camelopardalids meteors. They hope that measuring more orbits may eventually help determine the orbit of the comet, enabling us to finally locate and track this shadowy visitor to Earth’s neighborhood.

2 thoughts on “Camel Leopards and Comets”

  1. Dear William
    @ 21.55 8 Oct 2010.
    Bristol UK
    from east to west app 100000 mphr
    object: orange with red 15 sec on the sky. It looks like small aeroplain with lights switched on but in red. Sky cloudy just this object observed. I think was very close to Earth.

    Was that comet?


  2. I have a question. If the Andromeda Galaxy is moving toward the Milky Way Galaxy could this cause a pressure that presses against the other Galaxies which increases and pushes them away faster and faster? I wonder if the only way to find this out would be to calculate if the speed of the galaxies merging are in sync with the speed the other galaxies are expanding away from us. And if this was the case wouldn’t that mean once the galaxies collide the pressure would dissipate and the force of gravity would take over making everything fall back in on our galaxy? I am 16 year old and I was studying and came up with this idea if I can prove it I may be able to prove that everything will collapse back in on one location around 2 billion years from now causing the end of the universe if only I had data to prove it.

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