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Earth is expected to pass through a trail of broken comet debris on Monday night and early Tuesday morning. It could lead to a whole new meteor shower.
North American night sky watchers have the best chance of seeing the Tau Hercules shower NASA recommends Around 1 a.m. on the East Coast or 10 p.m. on the West Coast are the best times to look. The moon is new, so there will be no moonlight obscuring the meteors.
However, NASA stressed that there is no guarantee of a great view even if the sky is clear and dark. It can come to nothing.
Comet, officially known as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or SW3, was discovered in 1930 by German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachman. NASA said it was not observed again until the late 1970s and in the 1990s the comet broke into several pieces.
By the time SW3 passed Earth again in 2006, it was made up of about 70 pieces, and has continued to fragment further since then, the statement said.
NASA said that observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope published in 2009 indicated that some of the fragments were moving fast enough to be visible, intriguing astronomers.
Each year, there are about 30 meteor showers, which occur when the Earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid, which can be seen with the naked eye.
Some meteor showers have been around for centuries. For example, the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs every year in August, was first observed about 2,000 years ago and recorded by Chinese astronomers, NASA said. New meteor showers like this one, if they do occur, are relatively rare.
Debris from SW3 will hit Earth’s atmosphere more slowly than other meteor showers which is the speed at which the debris hits rather than the volume of debris that causes the shower.
Even if they are visible, this means that the meteors will be much fainter, for example, than Eta Aquarius meteorites earlier this month.
“This would be an all-or-nothing event. 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 of this comet,” Bill Cook, who leads the NASA Meteorite Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, He said in a statement.
Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation that appears to be shining in the night sky although Robert Lunsford, Secretary-General of the International Meteor Organization, said the Tau Hercules was incorrectly named. It would appear to be radiating from a constellation known as Bootes, he said, northwest of the bright orange star known as Arcturus (alpha Bootis).
“The radiation would be expected to be a large area of the sky rather than a specific point. So any slow meteor from this general area of the sky would be expected to be from SW3,” Lunsford said at Blog post.
“You don’t need to look directly at the sky as meteors may appear in any part of the sky. They are actually more likely to appear at lower altitudes in the sky because at these altitudes one is looking through a much thicker slice of the atmosphere when looking directly up” .
If the tau Herculid shower turns out to be useless, fear not, there are plenty of other opportunities to witness meteor showers this year.
Delta Aquariids are best seen from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks on the same night – Alpha Capricorn. Although this shower is much weaker, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during its peak. It will be visible to everyone, no matter which side of the equator they are on.
The Pershaw meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will reach its peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.
This is the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky meteor shower forecast.
- October 8: Draconids
- October 21: Orionids
- November 4-5: South Taurids
- November 11-12: North of Torres
- November 17: Leonids
- December 13-14: Gemini
- December 22: Ursids
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