Memorial Day could see possible tau Herculid meteor shower

A possible meteor shower is forecast to peak on Memorial Day.

The tau Herculid shower is predicted to peak on the evening of Monday, May 30 and the early morning of May 31.

Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said May marked a perfect opportunity for space enthusiasts to "experience one of nature’s most vivid light shows."

The agency explained that, in 1930, German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann discovered a comet known as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or "SW3."

NASA said the comet orbited the sun every 5.4 years and – being so faint – wasn't seen again until the late 1970s.

In 1995, astronomers realized the comet had become about 600 times brighter – visible to the naked eye.

Upon further research, astronomers realized SW3 had shattered into several pieces, littering its own orbital trail with debris. 

By the time it passed by Earth in 2006, it was in nearly 70 pieces and has continued to fragment further.

If it heads toward our home planet this year, debris from SW3 will strike Earth’s atmosphere.

It will do so very slowly – at just 10 miles per second. 

The meteors will be much fainter than the early May eta Aquariid meteor shower.

However, the tau Herculid radiant – where the meteors appear to be originating from – will be high in the night sky at the forecast peak time. 

In addition, the moon is new, meaning there will be no moonlight to wash out the faint meteors.

"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," Cooke said.

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