Meteor showers in late May are likely to turn into a major ‘meteor storm’

May could end with a spectacular sky show — or a flop.

Here’s what astronomers have to say about a fairly new meteor shower known as the Tau Herculids, which is expected to be visible through the late night hours of Monday, May 30, into the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

How is it visible? This is the big question.

Experts say this meteor shower is not a reliable shower that appears every year during the same general time frame, but is expected to appear from our planet at the end of Memorial Night. Some believe the Tau Herculids shower has the potential to become a rare “meteor storm”, potentially producing hundreds of meteors – perhaps up to 1,000 meteors an hour – for a short time.

“This is going to be an all-or-nothing event,” said Bill Cook, who heads NASA’s Meteorite Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Cook said the meteors from this shower are small debris from a comet known as SW3, which was discovered in 1930 by two German astronomers, Arnold Schwasmann and Arno Arthur Washmann.

Cook said the comet has a wide orbit, orbiting the sun every 5.4 years. But it was so faint that it went unnoticed again for several decades.

Experts say the viewing window is small, but there’s a chance the sky will be filled with dozens of shooting stars on Remembrance Night (May 30, 2022), thanks somewhat to the new Tau Herculids meteor shower.stock struggle

“Because it was so faint, SW3 wasn’t seen again until the late 1970s, and it looked very normal until 1995, when astronomers realized that the comet had become about 600 times brighter and went from a faint smudge to being visible to the naked eye as it passed,” Hu Don . “After further investigation, astronomers realized that SW3 had shattered into several pieces, scattering debris on its orbital path. By the time our path passed again in 2006, it was made up of roughly 70 pieces, and it had continued to break apart even more. since then “.

The speed of the comet’s debris will determine how good or bad we can see from Earth on May 30 and May 31, Cook says.

“If the debris from SW3 was traveling more than 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor,” he said. “If the speed of debris ejection was slower, nothing would reach Earth and there would be no meteors from this comet.”

Joe Rao, an astronomer at Hayden Planetarium in New York, agrees that the upcoming sky event could be a disappointment, or it could be a dazzling display of shooting stars.

“It all depends on whether the debris has scattered far enough before the comet to interact with our planet. If not, we’d see almost none at all,” Rao wrote in this report on Space.com. “On the other hand, we might see meteors coming in the dozens; similar strong outbursts in December’s annual maternity numbers. And if we go through a heavy concentration of comet debris, there is the potential for a full-blown meteor storm.”

Meteorite should and potential meteor storm

Experts say the viewing window is small, but there’s a chance the sky will be filled with dozens of shooting stars on Remembrance Night (May 30, 2022), thanks somewhat to the new Tau Herculids meteor shower. This GIF shows a meteor streaming across the sky over Cape May in August 2021 during the annual Perseid meteor showers. Chris Buckley

How do you see the meteor shower

Although much is still unknown about this meteorite, Chris Buckley, an astrophotographer and astronomy expert from South Jersey, says, it’s definitely worth staying up late to try to look at some pictures or take some photos.

“I want to let everyone know that the chance of this event happening is slim,” he said. “But some of my best photos over the years have come from opportunities just like this. This opportunity is well worth seizing, and if it works, it could be the most amazing night sky event we’ve ever seen here in New Jersey.”

Unlike regular meteor showers, Buckley said the Tau Hercules shower would be expected to have a short viewing window because its peak would be short-lived.

“For us here in New Jersey, that peak will be from 12:30 a.m. (Monday, May 30) to 1:45 a.m. (Tuesday, May 31),” Buckley said.

“If the (meteor) storm doesn’t happen during that time, I would still recommend staying out under the stars for a little longer in case the forecast is a bit wrong,” he added. “The radioactive dot will be high in the sky, so meteors can happen anywhere. But for this event, you really need to venture into the darkest conditions to view it perfectly.”

Similar to other meteor showers, this can be seen without special equipment, such as binoculars or telescopes. “But using a cell phone with night mode can help you take a photo that you can share with all your friends and family,” Buckley said.

He recommends using a tripod (an inexpensive one will work well), turning on the night mode settings, and choosing “the longest shutter speed your phone allows.”

“If any meteors appear at that time, your phone will pick them up,” Buckley said. And in the worst case scenario, if the meteor shower fades, you can still take great photos of the stars.

Meteorite should and potential meteor storm

This image shows a meteor blasting through the sky over Cape May during active Perseid meteor showers several years ago.Chris Buckley

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Len Melisurgo can be reached in LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.

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