A brand new meteor shower could light up the Memorial Day night sky on Monday and Tuesday (May 30 and 31) or it could be a big bust. But anyway, you will be able to watch it live online.
Called the tau Herculids meteor shower, the event has the potential to be a so-called “meteor storm” of 1,000 shooting stars per hour overnight Monday as Earth passes through debris from Comet 73P/ Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. But it could also fizzle out completely, scientists don’t know yet. A NASA scientist called it an “all or nothing event”.
You can watch live views of the possible meteor shower overnight Monday through Tuesday in the live stream above from the Virtual Telescope Project led by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi in Ceccano, Italy. The free webcast will start at 12 p.m. EDT (0400 GMT) May 31 and will feature views from all-sky cameras in Arizona and Brazil, Masi told Space.com. You can also watch it directly from the Virtual Telescope Project website (opens in a new tab) at the start time.
Related: Biggest meteor storms of all time
After: Potential meteor shower is an ‘all or nothing’ event, says NASA
The potential for the meteor shower stems from the disintegrating nature of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. The comet was first discovered in 1930 and orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, less than 5.7 million miles (9.2 million kilometers) from the sun each. time.
But it’s far from certain that the dusty, gaseous debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will spawn an impressive meteor shower, meteor storm, or anything else.
Bill Cooke, a NASA astronomer who tracks meteor showers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said it all depends on the speed of comet material.
“If the wreckage of SW 3 traveled more than 220 miles [354 kilometers] per hour as it separated from the comet, we could see a beautiful meteor shower,” Cooke said in a recent statement. (opens in a new tab). “If the debris had slower ejection velocities, then nothing will happen to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.”
It was Cooke who said the tau Herculid meteor shower would be “all or nothing” in the same statement.
Related: Guide to the 2022 meteor showers: Dates and viewing tips
Outbursts of the comet between 1995 and 2000 increased its brightness, and in April 2006 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a major fragmentation event as the comet separated. As of March 2017, up to 68 different fragments of the comet remained.
To see meteors from the tau Herculid meteor shower, observers should try to move away from city lights because any “shooting stars” will likely be faint due to their slow speed, NASA said.
“If it reaches us this year, debris from SW 3 will hit Earth’s atmosphere very slowly, traveling just 10 miles [16 km] per second – which means much fainter meteors than those belonging to the eta aquarids,” NASA wrote in a guide. (opens in a new tab)“But North American astronomers are taking particular note this year, because the Herculid tau radiant will be high in the night sky at the predicted peak time.”
Editor’s note: If you take an amazing photo of the tau Herculids meteor shower and want to share it with Space.com readers, send your photos, comments, name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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