Camelopardalid watchers get the hump…

Sorry, couldn’t resist it. 🙂

So, after all the speculation, build-up and hype, what did that “new meteor shower” coming from the constellation of Camelopardalis turn out like? Did the sky – as some predicted breathlessly – fill with beautiful shooting stars, hundreds flashing and dashing across the sky every hour at the peak? Did fireballs roll through the heavens, trailing smoke and fire? Or was the whole thing a bust?

Well, not exactly a bust, but there was nothing to write home about, that’s for sure. A day later, reading through reports on Facebook and Twitter and various observing groups, it is clear that at the predicted peak of the shower, which occurred during daylight hours for us here in the UK remember, observers in the US saw only a very, very modest show, just a spattering of meteors in fact, and I’ve not seen reports of any fireballs. So even if the peak had occurred during darkness here in the UK, I don’t think we’d have seen anything special either.

BUT, the no-show isn’t a reason for any teeth-gnashing or wailing, or to call for the heads of the astronomers. This is how science works. The people who made the predictions were VERY careful to just say there was a POSSIBILITY of new activity, but nothing was certain, and there was every chance that nothing at all might happen. And this is the line I took myself, of course. No, if anyone was led to believe that there absolutely would be a sky spectacle and are feeling disappointed or cheated today, that’s the fault of idiots on social network sites who insist on posting horrible mock-up photos with giddily excited titles like “Don’t miss this!” “This will be amazing!!” at times like this, predicting amazing events, which then spread across the net like wildfire. Inevitably the media pick up on these, with scientifically ignorant and lazy reporters quoting them without doing any fact checking, and the result is lots of people come to believe it’s nailed on certain that SOMETHING INCREDIBLE is going to happen “up there”. This happens all the time now, with every comet, every asteroid fly-by, every eclipse, even every Full Moon. It’s infuriating.

But anyway, back to the meteor storm. Basically, there wasn’t one, which was a shame but that’s the way it goes. And in the end, here in Cumbria the weather was so horrible we would have missed anything which happened anyway. But that didn’t stop several (okay, three) optimistic members of the Eddington AS heading up to local high viewpoint landmark Scout Scar to observe and record anything that happened…

The sky was thick with grey cloud, with only a few stars peeping through here and there gaps as Stella and I reached the car park at the foot of the Scar, where, somehow, we managed to miss EAS Treasurer Simon White, who had been at the Scar before we got there. But we headed up to the top of the Scar, loaded down with cameras, tripod, and a pop up tent, prepared to stick it out until dawn, just to see if anything would happen “up there”.

Our original plan had been to put our tent up in a small sheltered area just at the top of the path, but when we arrived that spot was already occupied. My torch beam showed a rather large animal lying there which was either a cow or a bull, it was impossible to be sure in the darkness, so discretion being the better part of valour, and with the animal’s eyes following us, we found an alternative camping spot further up the hill…

Scout Scar, for those who don’t know it, is well known, locally and I think nationally, for its limestone pavement formations, which jut out of the ground like hard, grey mould. There’s also loose limestone pieces everywhere, everywhere, scattered across it like the shattered remains of a billion broken plates, and as you walk on the scar these pieces chink and clink together beneath your boots. Eventually we found an area relatively free of this debris, and set up our overnight camp…

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There were a few gaps in the sky at that time – just around 01.15 – and I managed to sneak a few photos, which hint at what a good place it could be for astrophotography on a really clear night…

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That misty blur in the circle’s centre above is a comet, PANSTARRS K1, and that’s a single frame, not several stacked together, so I can’t wait to get up there again on a properly clear night and get some more photos.

But… by 02.30 the gaps closed up and it started to rain, so I retreated inside the tent too, and even though I kept popping my head out of the tent to check the sky I never saw another star again, and when dawn came, several hours later, the sky was battleship grey…

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…and that was it. Not a hint of a whiff of a meteor seen from Scout Scar. Elsewhere in the UK a few observers managed to bag a handful, but that was about it.

Oh well. Roll on the Perseids in August, and Noctilucent Clouds at month’s end!