Tau Herculids A Possible Surprise Meteor Shower!

We might have the opportunity to witness a possibly intense meteor event due to a comet that split apart in 1995.

Apparently, it is still fracturing. It could cause a spectacular mini meteor shower called the Tau Herculids… It’s parent comet is 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which was discovered back in 1930, by German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann .

Tau Herculids is a possible newcomer this year, forecast to peak on the night of May 30 and early morning of May 31.

It might happen, as Earth passes through a particularly dense stream of icy particles which the comet left behind in previous years.

If it makes it to us this year, the debris from SW3 will strike Earth’s atmosphere very slowly, traveling at just 10 miles per second – which means much fainter meteors than those belonging to the eta Aquariids. 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. Even better, the Moon is new, so there will be no moonlight to wash out the faint meteors.

According to Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, “This is going to be an all or nothing event. 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 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 does happen, we’ll see a grand display of meteors! And, even if it doesn’t, this comet is one you’ll want to come to know.

Image Credits

SW3 Image via NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

SW3 (2) Image via Bad Astronomy blog via Hubble Space Telescope.

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 breaking up. Image via NASA.


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