Tau Herculids Meteor Shower: Will We See A New Celestial Spectacle On 30th May?

29th May 2024
Tau Herculids Meteor Shower: Will We See A New Celestial Spectacle On 30th May?

NASA announced a potential new Tau Herculids meteor shower to brighten the skies tomorrow, on 30th May. However, astronomers still doubt if it would really happen. Let’s figure out what we know about this phenomenon so far.

A Ghost Meteor Shower

Astronomers say that events like the Tau Herculids meteor shower occasionally fall short of expectations. This was the case with the 2019 Alpha Monocerotid shower. That’s why, some scientists anticipate that the Tau Herculids could either be spectacular or disappointing – and we still don’t know accurately if it would occur.

The Parent Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachman

An infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the broken Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 skimming along a trail of debris left during its multiple trips around the sun. The flame-like objects are the comet’s fragments and their tails, while the dusty comet trail is the line bridging the fragments. Credit: NASA

But what we do know for sure is that on the night of 30th May to the early morning of 31st May, our planet will pass through debris from a broken comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (SW3). This comet broke into large pieces in 1995 and won’t reach this part of its orbit until August.

If some of these pieces were ejected at speeds more than twice the usual, fast enough to reach Earth, we might see the Tau Herculids Meteor Shower. However, the Tau Herculids will still move much slower compared to typical meteors, so they will look rather indistinctive.

Tau Herculids Meteor Shower’s Previous Appearances

The Tau Herculid meteor shower was first observed by the Kwasan Observatory in Kyoto, Japan, in May 1930. However, the meteors were relatively slow, entering the atmosphere at about 16 km/s (36,000 mph).

Later, on 30-31st May, 2022 (4:00-5:00 UT on May 31), occurred a modest meteor shower, caused by fragments from the 1995 breakup of the parent comet 73P. These fragments had been moving ahead of the comet for 27 years. The parent comet, which has 69 known fragments, was 1.5 AU from the Sun and 1.4 AU (210 million km) from Earth on 30th May, 2022, and won’t reach its closest point to the Sun until 25th August, 2022.

A Hope Still Exists

But observations from the Spitzer telescope in 2009 give hope: they have shown that at least some comet fragments are moving quickly enough. This is why astronomers are so excited about a probable meteor shower.

Who Gets A Chance To See Tau Herculids Meteor Shower?

Skywatchers in North America who have clear, dark skies have the best chances to see the tau Herculid meteor shower. The perfect time for viewing is around 1am on the East Coast or 10pm on the West Coast.

“We can’t be certain what we’ll see. We can only hope it’s spectacular,” NASA sums up.

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