The Tau Herculids meteor can unleash 1,000 meteors per hour

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Astronomers report that there is a chance of a “meteor storm” next Monday night. It probably won’t, but if it does, the screen could be from another world entirely.

Meteor showers from Tau Herculid usually result in a few falling stars between mid-May and mid-June, but there’s a chance they could be something extra special this year. Astronomers are focusing on the clump of cometary debris that – if placed perfectly in Earth’s orbital path – could trigger such an outburst of meteors.

100,000 bright stars per hour: what makes a ‘meteor storm’

Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through a stream of debris left in the wake of comets, asteroids, or other celestial bodies. Most are the size of fluffy rice grains or small pebbles, and produce flaming displays as they burn in the outside atmosphere. Meteor showers result when Earth enters an unusually dense and dense pool of interstellar debris — similar to driving through a swarm of insects on a highway. In an instant, your windshield will be covered with smears streaks in the direction you travel.

That’s why – in the unlikely event that things line up perfectly – an outburst of up to 1,000 bright stars per hour might be possible.

Where does the debris come from?

Each meteor shower is attached to an object in space. In the case of the Perseids in August, the debris comes from Comet Swift-Tuttle, while the Geminids were created in December by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Both screens produce 50 to 100 meteors every hour when viewed under clear and dark skies.

With the Tau Herculid shower, the parent comet is Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3), which made its closest approach to the Sun in October. 16, 2011. Since then, it is in the process of fragmenting and disintegrating.

The comet was discovered in 1930 and orbits the sun every 5.4 years. However, he was not seen again until late 1979, making a series of secret passages through the land. A comet unexpectedly flew into the night sky in 1995 after apparently breaking into four pieces.

There are now more than a dozen pieces, and each fragment, especially the one from 1995, can yield billions of tiny pieces of debris.

Due to the effects of mass, gravity, and pressure due to sunlight, some pieces of gravel-sized debris may take on smaller orbits that will place them Before The main comet, on the path of the possible intersection with the Earth’s orbit.

What are the chances of a meteor storm?

According to, a number of astronomers are optimistic about the possibility of new meteor showers this year, and some even assert that meteor storm levels – the equivalent of 1,000 bright stars per hour – can be achieved.

However, astronomers do not know how much the fragments spread, nor the dimensions of the debris cloud.

Meteorite rates can range from 1 to 1,000 meteors per hour. In the event of a meteor storm, it would only last for an hour or two, possibly less.

“This is going to be an all-or-nothing event,” wrote Bill Cook, who leads NASA’s Meteorite Environment Office. “If debris from SW3 was traveling more than 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower. If the debris had slower ejection velocities, nothing would reach Earth and there would be no meteors from that comet.”

If there’s a storm, you will note want to miss it.

Astronomers have determined the most likely time for the peak of any show that may or may not happen to be around 1 a.m. ET next Monday night/Tuesday morning. The “radiant” point of the shower, or the part of the sky from which the meteors appear, would be high in the sky over North America at that time, so there is no specific place in the sky to look at.

Of course, you’ll want to isolate yourself from bright lights or obstacles and move to an area with a wide view of the sky. Of course it will be compatible with the weather.

Meteor showers have occurred with the Leonid meteor shower, which occurs every year in November. Usually, Leonids fling a few shooting stars per hour over the head, making for an unremarkable show. But every now and then, the sky has exploded with sudden spikes in extreme activity and meteor rates of 100,000 per hour.

In AD 902, astronomers in North Africa and China recounted that stars fell “like rain.” Another meteor storm was seen over present-day Venezuela in 1799.

It happened again in 1833. Irish astronomer Agnes Marie Clerk wrote: “In Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half the frequency of snowflakes in an average blizzard,” who stated that the storm forecasted about nine hours. Clerc puts estimates of meteorite rates at an unprecedented level of 240,000 meteors per hour. That’s more than 60 stars per second.

Leonids shined again on the night of November 3. 13-14, 1866. A newspaper in Malta published an eyewitness report describing the scene as “really great and imposing…one of the finest I have ever seen.”

Another meteor storm came in 1966, igniting a spectacular fireworks display in the United States. Eyewitness Kristen Downing, who drove north of Mojave, California, watched a pair of meteors every five minutes, which “seemed at the time … extraordinary.” At 12:30 a.m. it was “raining stars,” and by 2 a.m. “it was a snowstorm.”

Its description, which can be read in full on the NASA webpage, is one of many that night. “There was a troubling feeling that the mountains were on fire,” Downing wrote. Falling stars filled the entire sky on the horizon, but it was silent.

Additional tamer episodes occurred in 1999 and 2001.

There are no meteor showers from Leonids or any other shower frankly expected in our lifetime, nor are we likely to experience anything close to what generations past have experienced – but next week may offer a taste.

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