The month of May will end with a cosmic surprise thanks to a comet which is currently tearing apart. According to NASA, the night of May 30 and the early morning of May 31 will bring a powerful meteor shower courtesy of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann or SW3. NASA says the next meteor shower named tau Herculids could be one of the brightest to light up the sky this year.
History of the tau Herculids meteor shower
The tau Herculids meteor shower is the result of the debris cloud resulting from the breakup of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (SW3). After its discovery in 1930, the comet disappeared until reappearing in the 1970s. After its rediscovery, the comet looked normal until 1995 and was difficult to spot without a telescope. However, further monitoring revealed that the comet had become around 600 times brighter and was relatively easier to spot with the naked eye.
Astronomers confirmed that the comet’s brightness was the result of SW3 breaking up as it broke into several pieces and left an orbital trail made of its own debris. Astronomers noted that the comet was in about 70 pieces when it approached Earth in 2006 and has continued to fragment since then.
NASA expects a meteor display on May 30-31
NASA said that if meteors arrive on Earth this year, they will enter Earth’s atmosphere at a relatively slower speed, around 16 kilometers per hour. The upcoming meteor shower should be quite bright as it will be high in the night sky during peak hours and since the sky would be moonless the event would be much easier to spot in the northern hemisphere.
“This is going to be an all-or-nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was traveling over 220 miles per hour (354 km per hour) when it separated from the comet, we could see a nice meteor shower. debris had slower ejection velocities, so nothing will reach Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet,” Bill Cooke, who heads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a report.