Memorial Day Meteor Shower: Dew Herculid showers could blind night sky Monday

Earth is expected to pass the debris trail of a ruptured comet Monday evening and early Tuesday morning. It could lead to a brand new meteor shower.

Night sky watchers in North America have the best chance of seeing the Tau Herculid shower, with NASA recommending around 1 a.m. on the east coast or 10 p.m. on the west coast as the best times to look up. The moon is new so there will be no moonlight obscuring the meteors.

However, there is no guarantee of a dazzling display even when the sky is clear and dark, NASA pointed out. Nothing could come of it.

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

When SW3 passed Earth again in 2006, it was composed of nearly 70 pieces and has been further fragmented ever since, the statement said.

NASA said observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope released in 2009 indicated that some fragments are moving fast enough to be visible, something that space scientists are excited about.

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

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

“All or Nothing Event”

The debris from SW3 will hit Earth’s atmosphere more slowly than other meteor showers, and it is the speed at which the debris hits rather than the size of the debris that causes the shower.

Even if they were visible, that means the meteors would be much fainter than the Eta Aquariid meteors earlier this month, for example.

“This will be an all or nothing event. If SW3’s debris was moving at more than 220 miles per hour as it separated from the comet, we could see a beautiful meteor shower. If the debris had slower ejection velocities, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet,” said Bill Cooke, who directs NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. in a statement.

Meteor showers are usually named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate in the night sky, although Robert Lunsford, secretary-general of the International Meteor Organization, said the Tau Herculids were misnamed. He said they will appear to emanate from a constellation called Bootes, northwest of the bright orange star Arcturus (Alpha Bootis).

“The radiant is expected to be a large area of ​​the sky and not a single point. Therefore, any slow-moving meteor can be expected to originate from this general area of ​​the SW3 sky,” Lunsford said in a blog post.

“You don’t have to look straight up as meteors can appear in any part of the sky. They’re actually more likely to appear at lower altitudes in the sky, because at those altitudes you’re looking through a much thicker layer of the atmosphere than when you’re looking straight up.”

More meteor showers

If the Tau Herculid shower turns out to be a dud, don’t worry, there are several other meteor shower opportunities this year.

Best seen from the southern tropics, the Delta Aquariids will peak between July 28-29 when the Moon is 74% full.

Interestingly, another meteor shower is peaking that same night – the Alpha Capricornids. Although this is a much weaker shower, it is known to produce some bright fireballs during its peak. It will be visible to everyone no matter 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 4-5: South Taurids
  • November 11-12: North Taurids
  • December 13-14: Gemini

The CNN Wire
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Dais Johnston

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