Skywatchers may be in for a huge treat tonight.
The Tau Herculids meteor shower will be visible during the late-night hours of Monday, May 30 into the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 31st. While experts are warning it could be an “all or nothing” event, the Tau Herculids shower has the potential to become a “meteor storm,” capable of producing an outburst as many as 1,000 meteors per hour.
Or, we might not have a meteor shower at all.
What scientists do know is on the night of May 30 into the early morning of May 31, Earth will pass through the debris trails of a broken comet called 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or SW3,” according to NASA.
“If the fragments from were ejected with speeds greater than twice the normal speeds—fast enough to reach Earth—we might get a meteor shower,” Lee Mohon of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. “Spitzer observations published in 2009 indicate that at least some fragments are moving fast enough. This is one reason why astronomers are excited.
“We can’t be certain what we’ll see. We can only hope it’s spectacular.”
If a meteor shower does occur, the Tau Herculids will move slowly by meteor standards and will likely be faint.
Observers in North America under clear, dark skies have the best chance to see a Tau Herculid around midnight CDT.
The meteor shower can also be viewed via the Virtual Telescope Project.