Astronomers may have a treat early next week with an “all or nothing” meteor shower as Earth passes through debris from a disintegrating comet, according to NASA.
A possible newcomer, the Herculid tau shower, is expected to peak on the evening of Monday, May 30, and early Tuesday, May 31, according to a NASA blog post.
“This will be an all-or-nothing event,” said Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Being able to see it will depend on the comet, known as SW3, the origin of the meteor shower, the post said.
“If the SW3 wreckage was traveling at more than 220 miles per hour when it broke away from the comet, we could see a nice meteor shower,” Cooke said in the post. “If the debris had slower ejection speeds, nothing would reach Earth and there would be no meteors from this comet.”
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through “dusty debris left behind by a comet,” resulting in a glowing trail, according to NASA.
SW3 was first discovered by German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann in 1930, the post said. It orbited the Sun every 5.4 years and disappeared until the late 1970s.
In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet “became 600 times brighter” and determined that the comet had shattered, the post said. When it passed Earth again in 2006, it was in nearly 70 pieces.
While it’s unclear whether the rain will reach Earth this year, its peak could be at 1 am ET on May 31, Tuesday morning, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Fortunately for stargazers in North America, the moon is new, meaning there will be no moonlight to erase the meteors, the post said.