A meteor shower is expected to take place tonight (May 30), and it may be visible in parts of the U.S.
It is not certain that the shower, dubbed the Tau Herculid shower, will happen. But if it does, the sky could be filled with a thousand shooting stars.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the fragmented remains of a comet or asteroid. Usually, meteor showers are caused when the Earth moves through the cloud of gas that is released from the comet as it passes near to the sun.
If the shower takes place, it will be caused by the comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann or SW3. NASA said the comet disappeared from sight in the 1970s, and reappeared in 1995. It was discovered that the comet continued to shatter, causing it to shine about 600 times brighter.
The comet has passed Earth previously in 2006, and was in 70 pieces. Since then, it has continued to break apart.
If some of its debris comes into contact with Earth, the meteor shower should be a sight to behold for sky gazers. So, if it happens, where and when might this meteor shower be visible?
Where and When?
Sky gazers in North America, under dark, clear skies have the best chance of watching the phenomenon, according to NASA.
The shower is due to peak during the night of May 30, and into the early morning of May 31.
Astronomers have predicted that observers on the East Coast will have the best chance of seeing the display at 1 a.m., while observers on the West Coast will be able to see it at 10 p.m.
Astronomers are not certain whether the meteor shower will happen because the comet’s debris should be traveling at 10 miles per second—a slow speed when compared to other meteors. This means the debris may not glow enough to be visible. It is also not certain how much debris will enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It could involve up to 1,000 shooting stars, according to the Space Weather Archive blog.
However, it could also be none at all.
Bill Cooke, of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a press release that this will be an “all or nothing” event.
The shower’s intensity will depend on the speed of the debris, he said.
Despite the slow movement of the comet, the skies across much of North America are set to be clear this evening. The shower’s direction will also be high in the sky at peak times. A new moon is also expected, meaning natural light pollution—which will lessen the chances of seeing the shower—is expected to be low.
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