New for 2022, the Tau Herclide meteor shower may appear on the night of May 30-31.
sometimes, astronomy It can be full of surprises. Take the case of a small comet, which is usually too faint to be seen without the help of a telescope. But in 1995, it suddenly and completely unexpectedly brightened, becoming dimly visible with the naked eye.
By the end of May things can turn exciting, thanks to this little thing again comet. That night, new meteor shower – tau Herculids – May erupt, possibly ranking with the best annual meteorite shows.
However, there’s also a small chance of something unusual – perhaps one of the most dramatic meteor shows since The Amazing Show. Leonid meteor shower More than 20 years ago.
Or maybe nothing will ever be seen.
Related: Meteor shower 2022 guide: dates and viewing tips
How did it all start
This somewhat compelling story began 92 years ago, on the night of May 2, 1930. Two German astronomers, Friedrich Karl Arnold Schwasmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann, were exhibiting plates at the Hamburg Observatory in Bergedorf, Germany for new cataloging. asteroids, when they accidentally stumbled upon a picture of a new comet. This was the third discovery of its kind made by the two men, the others being in 1927 and 1929.
After the discovery, the orbital data of the comet 73P / Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (which we will refer to from here on as “SW 3”) appears to pass only 5.7 million miles (9.2 million km) of Land On May 31. Despite its very close proximity, Comet SW 3 was not bright enough to be visible to the naked eye; It can only be seen through a good binoculars or telescope.
Although comet SW 3 is rotating the sun About every 5.4 years, after 1930 it was missing in action for a long time. In fact, between 1935 and 1974, the SW 3 came and went eight times without being seen. He was not seen again until March 1979. His next comeback, in January 1985, was not recorded, but was recovered again in early 1990.
full of surprises
Astronomers expected Comet SW 3 to make another quiet return in the fall of 1995. But during early October, the Central Office of astronomical telegrams suddenly began receiving Numerous reports from observers around the world of independent discoveries. A comet with the naked eye, low in the western evening twilight and has a dust tail of 1 degree.
But this wasn’t a “new” comet at all – it was SW 3!
This was astonishing because the comet had never approached Earth in 1995 more than 122 million miles (196 million km). By all rights, it should have been visible only with very large telescopes. However, here it was a bright 6.5 Ingredients Brighter than expected – almost 400-fold increase in brightness! As for what caused this massive explosion, December observations from SW 3 made at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile revealed that its small nucleus had broken off in four parts.
The comet was still very bright on its next visit in the fall of 2000, indicating that two of the fragments observed in 1995 had returned, with a new one, which may have separated during the 1995 return.
In the spring of 2006 the comet disintegrated Make the appearance of his returninitially at least eight remains appear, and some of the fragments themselves formed their own sub-fragments.
On April 18, 2006, a Hubble Space Telescope registered Dozens of splinters. Between May 4 and 6, it’s the turn of the Spitzer Space Telescope to photograph the comet. Using the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) was able to Watch 45 out of 58 guilty pieces. In all, SW 3 eventually broke into more than 68 fragments, and in its most recent appearance in March 2017, showed signs of continuing to disintegrate and shed new pieces with each return through the inner solar system.
A disintegrating comet with an orbit very close to our Earth, Opens discussion about the possibility of new meteor showers are produced. The chance of interacting with the malice of a fragmented comet may sound familiar, and in fact, most astronomy texts often refer to The famous case of the splitting of Comet Biella In 1842 or early 1843 and associated with an amazing group “Andromedide” Meteor storms that occurred in 1872 and again in 1885. The question is, can we hope in 2022 for a similar performance resulting from the breakup of SW 3 in 1995?
Three important factors were considered:
- When the comet disintegrated in 1995, massive dust particles were expelled into space.
- When the SW 3 nucleus broke apart, particles were likely to be ejected into space in all directions. Small particles the size of pebbles and sand grains are usually pushed behind the comet by the pressure of sunlight. But pebbles and larger chunks are unaffected by solar radiation, so they end up on paths closer to the sun. The closer a celestial body is to the sun, the faster it will move in its orbit (gravity insists on this; this is a basic natural law). Therefore, over time, these larger bits and pieces of the comet pass through as they move into smaller orbits, thus moving out of the comet.
- In order for those larger pieces to reach this faster orbit, they must be ejected into space at 60 miles per hour (26.71 meters per second). This speed is usually a little high, but the sudden collapse of a comet’s nucleus in 1995 and the resulting explosion of material may have been powerful enough to produce this necessary speed.
As a result, those larger particles that were expelled in 1995 may have moved to the site straight ahead From the culprit, not from behind. And the particles placed in front of the comet are the necessary component of a meteor explosion.
Studies by teams of famous meteor shower experts, including one from Germany and others from JapanAnd France, as well as by this author, they all came to the same conclusion: the Earth would have a direct interaction with the material released from the split of SW 3 at the end of May 1995. And the possibility of a new, never-before-seen meteorite looks especially promising. All different forecasts point to 05:00 UT/GMT on Tuesday, May 31.
That translates to 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday, May 31, or 10 p.m. PT on Monday, May 30.
If you want to photograph the tau Herculid meteor shower, or want to get your gear ready for your next skywatching event, check out The best cameras for astrophotography And Best lenses for astrophotography. Read our guide to How to photograph meteors and meteor showers For more helpful tips for planning your photo session.
Vision: radiant and moonlight
If this meteor explosion occurs, its potential radiation or emission point will be placed Within the constellation Boötes the Herdsmanabout 6 degrees north-northwest of the bright yellowish-orange star, arcturus.
As for the area of view, a large portion of the contiguous United States, south central and eastern Canada (including the Maritime Provinces), Mexico, Central and South America, and a small segment of West Africa are well-centered world regions for this event. In the United States, the height of radioactive waves ranges from approximately halfway in the western sky in eastern New England to approximately the height in southern California and the desert southwest.
Across parts of the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains, as well as for a slice of the Canadian Prairies, northern Ontario, central Quebec, and most of Newfoundland and Labrador, the summit is expected to come during astrological aurora (The sun is 12 to 18 degrees below the horizon), but the sky must still be dark enough to see the brightest stars as well as any bright meteors.
Unfortunately, for the far west and north of North America, as well as for the rest of the world, the sky will be either too bright, drenched in sunlight or facing away from any incoming meteors, preventing any potential viewing from being seen.
as far as the moon It will be new on May 30th. So, the sky will be dark.
What will we see?
That’s the $64,000 question. This would be the first time Earth encountered comet debris in 1995 since the fragmentation event, but we can’t see where the meteorites have spread (until we encounter them), so it’s hard to predict exactly how far Earth might face as we cross the comet’s path this month. . It all depends on whether the debris has spread far enough before the comet to interact with our planet. If not, we’ll see next to absolutely nothing.
On the other hand, we may see meteors coming from dozens; A similarly powerful explosion in the annual December numbers Gemini.
And if we pass through a heavy concentration of comet debris, there is a possibility A complete meteor storm! As for how long any eruption may last, it is likely to be short-lived; Not more than a few hours at most.
how to watch
You’ll be outside for a while, as you’ll need to wait until your eyes get dark. The perfect reclining garden chair. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing for the weather; It might get colder than local forecasts suggest, so also bring a blanket. Do not stare at any part of the sky. Keep searching everywhere.
The most important thing about a potential meteor watch is to find a dark location away from any bright lights that can be observed. This will be necessary!
Here’s why: The particles will encounter the Earth at a very low speed of just 10 miles (16 km) per second. This is about as slow as it can hit the Earth from orbit around the Sun. The faster a meteor of a certain size travels, the brighter it will be, which means that particles from SW 3 will likely produce very faint meteors, and only the larger pieces will produce stunningly bright stars. But due to the fragmentation nature of the SW 3 kernel it’s possible for there to be a lot of bigger bits and pieces between the smaller ones, so we can’t rule out a lot of cool slow-moving fireballs as part of the shower screen.
So, remember: the darker the sky, the more meteors you’ll see.
Good luck and a clear sky!
Editor’s note: If you took an amazing photo of the tau Herculids meteor shower and would like to share it with the readers of Space.com, send your photo(s), comments, name and location to [email protected].
Joe Rao is a teacher and guest lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Journal of Natural HistoryThe Farmers’ calendar and other publications. Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed and on Facebook.
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