A meteor shower is expected to light up the skies in various parts of the United States and some other countries on the intervening night of May 30 and 31, astronomers have predicted.
According to Space.com, the Tau Herculids meteor shower is likely to become a meteor storm of 1,000 shooting stars an hour. NASA has called it an “all or nothing event”.
The event will be visible to space enthusiasts as Earth passes through debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3.
Skywatchers in West Africa, the Caribbean and South America are also favoured to see some action.
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How to spot the meteor shower in the sky
According to The New York Times, the Tau Herculids will originate from the constellation Boötes, radiating from just above the star Arcturus, a ruddy orange-yellow entity that will be the brightest star in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere at that time. Locating Arcturus is easy if you can find the Big Dipper: Simply trace a line from the last two stars in the Dipper’s handle in a direction away from its bowl. The first bright star you see should be Arcturus.
How to watch the potential meteor shower online
A livestream of the possible meteor shower will be available on the Virtual Telescope Project led by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi in Ceccano, Italy and will feature views captured by all-sky cameras in Arizona and Brazil.
Bill Cooke, a NASA astronomer, said, “If the debris from SW 3 was travelling more than 220 miles [354 kilometres] per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower. If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.”
“If it makes it to us this year, the debris from SW 3 will strike Earth’s atmosphere very slowly, travelling at just 10 miles [16 km] per second — which means much fainter meteors than those belonging to the eta Aquariids,” NASA wrote in a guide. “But North American stargazers are taking particular note this year, because the tau Herculid radiant will be high in the night sky at the forecast peak time.”
Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was first discovered in 1930 and orbits the sun once every five years, coming within 9.2 million km of the sun each time. The SW3, a trifling ice ball originally clocked in at about two-thirds of a mile in diameter, so it rarely produced enough material to generate major nighttime fireworks. But in 1995, SW3 crumbled, producing a large fragment field that our planet is about to encounter.
The oldest-known written observation of a radiant came from Islamic sky watchers who recorded a great shower after the death of conqueror Abu Ishaq Ibrahim II ibn Ahmad in 902. They noted that the meteors were coming from one spot as they rained, Littmann said.
Our modern understanding of meteor showers can be traced to the late 18th century, when people noted a major comet passing by a year before a large meteor storm from the direction of the constellation Leo. Then on Nov. 12, 1833, the Leonids shower put on a display so spectacular that thousands of shooting stars fell every minute.