Memorial Day meteor shower: Tau Herculid showers could dazzle the Monday night sky

Earth is expected to pass through a trail of debris from the comet that broke apart Monday night and early Tuesday. This could produce a new meteor shower.

Night sky watchers in North America have the best chance of seeing the Herculid tau showers, with NASA recommending around 1 a.m. on the East Coast or 10 p.m. on the West Coast as the best time to look up. The moon is still new, so there will be no moonlight to obscure the meteors.

However, there’s no guarantee of a dazzling view even if the sky is clear and dark, NASA emphasizes. It can’t do anything.

The comet, officially known as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or SW3, was discovered in 1930 by German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachman. It was not seen again until the late 1970s and in the 1990s the comet broke into several pieces, NASA said.

By the time SW3 passed Earth again in 2006, it was nearly 70 pieces, and has continued to fragment even further since, the statement said.

NASA says observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope published in 2009 showed that some of the fragments were moving fast enough to be visible, attracting space scientists.

Every year, there are about 30 meteor showers, which occur when Earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid, which is visible to the naked eye.

Some meteor showers have been around for centuries. For example, the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs annually in August, was first observed about 2,000 years ago and recorded by Chinese astronomers, NASA said. New meteor showers like this, if they do occur, are relatively rare.

‘All or nothing event’

Debris from SW3 will strike Earth’s atmosphere more slowly than other meteor showers and the speed at which the debris strikes is greater than the size of the debris causing the rain.

Even if visible, this means the meteor will be much fainter, for example, than the Aquariids eta meteor earlier this month.

“This would be an all-or-nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was traveling at more than 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a good meteor shower. If the debris had a slower ejection velocity, then nothing will reach Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet,” said Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in a statement.

Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate in the night sky although Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization, said tau Herculids had been misnamed. He said they would appear to radiate from the constellation known as Bootes, northwest of the brilliant orange star known as Arcturus (alpha Bootis).

“The beam is expected to be a large area of ​​the sky and not a precise point. So any slow meteors from this general area of ​​the sky can be expected to come from SW3,” Lunsford said in a blog post.

“You don’t need to look directly up as meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. They’re actually more likely to appear at lower altitudes in the sky because at this altitude people are looking through a much thicker slice of the atmosphere than when looking straight up.” . to the top.”

Meteor shower again

If the Herculid tofu rain turns out to be useless, fear not, there are several other opportunities to witness a meteor shower this year.

Delta Aquariids are best viewed from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29, when the moon is 74% full.

Interestingly, another meteor shower peaked that same night — the Alpha Capricornids. While this is a much weaker rain, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during its peak. This will be visible to everyone, regardless of which side of the equator they are on.

The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.

Here’s the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky’s meteor shower forecast.

  • November 4th to 5th: South Taurid
  • November 11-12: North Taurid
  • December 13 to 14: Geminid

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