The month of May could end with a spectacular sky show – or a failure.
That’s what astronomy experts say about a fairly new meteor shower known as the Tau Herculidswhich should be visible late at night from Monday May 30 until the wee hours of Tuesday May 31, 2022.
How visible? That’s the big question.
Experts say this meteor shower is not one of the most reliable that appears every year during the same general period, but is expected to be visible from our planet late on Memorial Day night. And some believe that the Tau Herculids shower has the potential to become a rare “meteor storm“, potentially producing hundreds of meteors – perhaps as many as 1,000 per hour – for a short period of time.
“It’s going to be an all-or-nothing event,” said Bill Cooke, who heads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA. Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Cooke said the the meteors from this shower are tiny debris from a comet known as SW3, discovered in 1930 by two German astronomers, Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann.
The comet had a wide orbit, circling the sun every 5.4 years, Cooke said. But it was so weak that it went unnoticed for several decades.
“Being so faint, SW3 was not seen again until the late 1970s, looking fairly normal until 1995 when astronomers realized the comet had become about 600 times brighter and went from a slight stain to be visible to the naked eye when passed over,” he noted. “Upon further investigation, astronomers realized that SW3 had broken into several pieces, littering its own orbital trail with debris. has continued to fragment since then.
Cooke says the speed of the comet’s debris will determine how good or bad our view will be from Earth on May 30 and 31.
“If the debris from SW3 was traveling over 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we could see a nice meteor shower,” he said. “If the debris had slower ejection velocities, then nothing will happen to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.”
New York astronomy expert Joe Rao Hayden Planetariumagrees that the upcoming celestial event could be a disappointment, or it could turn out to be a dazzling display of shooting stars.
“It all depends on whether the debris has spread far enough in front of the comet to interact with our planet. Otherwise, we will see almost nothing at all,” Rao wrote in this report on Space.com. “On the other hand, we could see meteors coming in by the dozens; a strong explosion similar in number to the annual December Geminids. And if we pass through a high concentration of comet debris, then there is a possibility of a full-fledged meteor storm.”
How to see the meteor shower
Chris BakleyAn astro-photographer and astronomy expert from South Jersey, says that while a lot remains unknown about this meteor shower, it’s definitely worth staying up late to try and catch a glimpse or take pictures.
“I want to let everyone know that this event is unlikely to happen,” he said. “But some of my best photography over the years has come from opportunities like this. This chance is worth taking and if it comes to fruition, it could very well be the most spectacular night sky event ever. we’ve ever seen here in New Jersey.
Unlike normal meteor showers, Bakley said the Shower Tau Herculids should have a short viewing window as its peak will be short-lived.
“For us here in New Jersey, that peak will be 12:30 a.m. (Monday, May 30) to 1:45 a.m. (Tuesday, May 31),” Bakley said.
“If the (meteor) storm doesn’t occur during this time, I always recommend staying under the stars a bit longer in case the forecast is slightly off,” he added. “The radiant point will be high in the sky, so the meteors could come anywhere. But for this event, you really have to venture into the darkest skies to see it perfectly.
Similar to other meteor showers, this one can be seen without special equipment, like binoculars or telescopes. “But using a cell phone with night mode can help you capture an image that you can share with all your friends and family,” Bakley said.
He recommends using a tripod (an inexpensive tripod would work well), enabling night mode settings, and choosing “the longest shutter speed your phone will allow.”
“If meteors pass through during this time, your phone will capture it,” Bakley said. And, in the worst-case scenario, if the meteor shower dies out, you can still capture awesome photos of the stars.
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Len Melisurgo can be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.
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