A barrage of stars is coming, not seen in a century

Something astronomically exciting could happen at the end of this month. On the evenings of May 30 and 31, astronomers around the world will be observing the sky to see if it’s new meteor showerexpected nearly 100 years ago.

The short but intense meteor show will be because of one comet That split in 1995 and that, apparently, is still scattered. According to NASA, new meteor showers could occur within a week The Tau of Herculeswhich is probably among the best annual meteor show.

The Tau Hercules meteors are fragments of Comet 73P / Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3). Two German astronomers, Arnold Schwasmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann of the Hamburg Observatory, discovered this comet in 1930. SW3 orbits the Sun every 5.4 years. But because it’s so weak, SW3 wasn’t seen again until the late 1970s. In addition to its weakness, one of the reasons astronomers were unable to detect SW3 is that they were looking in the wrong place. Their inaccurate orbital calculations were due to the close passes near Jupiter, which altered the comet’s orbit.

Later, SW3 appeared completely normal until 1995, when astronomers realized that it had become about 600 times brighter and went from being a faint speck to being visible to the naked eye as it passed. Upon further investigation, astronomers realized that SW3 had shattered into several pieces, and its orbital path was strewn with debris. By 2006, he had almost crashed 70 pieces The split has continued further since then. Comet SW3 returned in 2011 but was not in a good position for observers that year, as it mostly remained behind the sun. So we couldn’t learn anything from this passage.

Now SW3 can return to view. Bill Cook, who heads NASA’s Meteor Environment Office, said:This will be an all or nothing event. If the SW3 debris was traveling at over 354 km/h when it separated from the comet, we could see a gentle meteor shower. If debris ejection rates were slower, nothing would reach Earth and there would be no meteors from this comet.”

Correct conditions

For there to be good meteor showers in 2022, three pieces of the puzzle must fit together. First, a large number of particles must have been expelled from the comet’s nucleus during its disintegration in 1995. This appears to be true, as the images taken at the time indicate. Second, the comet’s rupture was supposed to eventually push matter forward into its orbit. Since the comet orbits the sun and ejects material, we assume that the particles go in all directions. Those pushed back will take a slower speed and will fall closer to the sun, governed by the laws of gravity. As they get closer to the sun, they will accelerate and over time they will pass by the comet in their small orbits and precede it.

Eventually, the comet must eject the material fast enough to sustain this new orbit. To do this, a speed of about 27 meters per second is required. That’s faster than usual, but the Big Bang and the rupture of the comet’s core in 1995 may have been powerful enough to produce that speed. If all three of these conditions are met, we will face the perfect storm.


This meteorite – Tau Herculids – got its name in 1930 when a comet passed close to Earth. Some observers are said to have seen a short-lived meteorite in the 1930s, but this claim has been called into question. Since then, the swarm has either been nonexistent or faint, although it is still included in the American Meteorological Society’s meteor shower list, indicating a duration from May 19 to June 14.

Most meteor showers are named after the point in the sky from which they appear to radiate. This swarm will probably forever be known as Tau Herculids because that was the calculated position when the comet was discovered in 1930. But observers have never seen meteors from this comet radiate from this location in the sky. The radians change due to the attraction of the giant planet Jupiter. It is now located in the western constellation Bootes, near the bright star Arcturus, near the globular cluster M3.

How to watch meteors

In 2022, a new moon will be the day before the expected peak of this meteor. Fortunately, the satellite will not obstruct the view of the phenomenon. Calculations made by the different teams resulted in three different peaks, in a time frame of 22 minutes. One sets the peak at 05:04 UTC on May 31, 2022; The other two are at 04:55 UTC and 05:17 UTC.

Phil Schwartz

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