Take the case of a tiny comet, normally far too faint to be seen without the help of a telescope.Come the end of May, things could turn exciting, thanks again to this same tiny comet.
On that night, a new meteor shower — the tau Herculids — might erupt, perhaps ranking with the best of the annual meteor displays. .Yet, there is also a small chance of something extraordinary — perhaps one of the most dramatic meteor displays since the spectacular Leonid meteor showers of more than 20 years ago. .Related: Meteor shower guide 2022: Dates and viewing advice .
Two German astronomers, Friedrich Carl Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann were exposing plates at the Hamburg Observatory in Bergedorf, Germany to catalog new asteroids, when they accidentally stumbled across the image of a new comet.After discovery, orbital data for comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (which from here on we will refer to as 'SW 3') show it passing only 5.7 million miles (9.2 million km) from Earth on May 31.This was astonishing because the comet never came closer to Earth in 1995 than 122 million miles (196 million km).
As for what caused this tremendous outburst, observations in December of SW 3 made at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile revealed that its tiny nucleus had fractured into four parts. .In the spring of 2006, the disintegrating comet made its return appearance, initially showing at least eight remnants, and some of the fragments were themselves forming their own sub-fragments. .
Between May 4th and 6th, it was the Spitzer Space Telescope's turn to image the comet; using its Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) it was able to observe 45 of 58 comet chunks.A disintegrating comet with an orbit that comes very close to our Earth, opens up a discussion about the possibility of a new meteor shower being spawned!
And particles positioned ahead of the comet is the necessary ingredient for a meteor outburst.Studies by teams of reputable meteor shower experts, including one from Germany, and others from Japan, France, as well as by this author, have all come to the same conclusion: Earth will have a direct interaction with material released from the splitting of SW 3 at the end of May 1995.If you're hoping to photograph the tau Herculid meteor shower, or want to prepare your gear for the next skywatching event, check out our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Read our guide on how to photograph meteors and meteor showers for more helpful tips to plan out you photo session!If this meteor outburst comes to pass, their possible radiant, or emanation point would be positioned within the boundaries of the constellation of Boötes the Herdsman, about 6 degrees north-northwest of the brilliant yellow-orange star, Arcturus. .
This will be the first time the Earth and the comet debris shed in 1995 have come together since the fragmentation event, but we can't see where the meteoroids have spread to (until we run into them), so it is hard to predict exactly how much the Earth might encounter as we cross the comet's path this month.
It all depends on whether the debris has spread far enough out ahead of the comet to interact with our planet.And if we pass through a heavy concentration of comet debris, then there is a possibility of a full-fledged meteor storm
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