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Meteor Shower May 2022: In Tonight’s Meteor Shower, Astronomers Predict up To 1,000 Shooting Stars Every Hour!

The tau Herculid meteor shower, which is new for 2022, may happen on the night of May 30-31. Astronomy may be unpredictable at times. Consider a small comet that is ordinarily too faint to be observed without the use of a telescope. However, in 1995, it brightened up to the point that it could be seen with the naked eye.

Things might become interesting by the end of May, courtesy of this same little comet. A new meteor shower, the tau Hercules, may explode that night, perhaps ranking among the greatest of the yearly meteor displays.
However, there is a slim possibility of something remarkable — maybe one of the most magnificent meteor displays since the amazing Leonid meteor showers of more than two decades ago.

There’s a Chance that Nothing Will Be Seen.

Or possibly nothing will be seen at all. On the night of May 2, 1930, 92 years ago, a fascinating narrative starts.

tau herculids meteor

At the Hamburg Observatory in Bergedorf, Germany, two German astronomers, Friedrich Carl Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann, were exposing plates to catalog new asteroids when they unintentionally happened upon the picture of a new comet. The two men had previously made similar discoveries in 1927 and 1929.

After its detection, orbital data for comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3(opens in new tab) (hence referred to as ‘SW 3’) shows it passing Earth at a distance of just 5.7 million miles (9.2 million km) on May 31. Comet SW 3, despite its near approach, never became brilliant enough to be seen with the naked eye; it could only be seen with powerful binoculars or a telescope.

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Discoveries.

Even though comet SW 3 orbits the sun every 5.4 years, it was out of sight for a long time after 1930.

chance to see a meteor strom

In reality, SW 3 appeared and disappeared eight times between 1935 and 1974. The last time it was spotted was in March 1979. It was missing on its next visit in January 1985, but it was found early in 1990.

Comet SW 3 was projected to make another unremarkable appearance in the autumn of 1995, according to astronomers. However, in early October, the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams started receiving ‘many accounts from observers worldwide of independent discoveries'(opens in new tab) of a naked-eye comet that was low in the western evening twilight and had a 1-degree long dust tail.

“New” Comet.

This, however, was not a “new” comet – it was SW 3! This was remarkable since the comet never got closer to Earth than 122 million miles in 1995. (196 million km).

meteor shower 2022

Only reasonably big telescopes should have been able to see it, by all rights.

And yet, there it was, gleaming 6.5 magnitudes brighter than expected – about 400 times brighter! In December, studies of SW 3 at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile, showed that its small core had fragmented into four sections, indicating that it was the origin of this massive outburst.

On its next visit in the autumn of 2000, the comet was still fairly brilliant, indicating that two of the pieces seen in 1995 had returned, along with a new one that had likely broken off during the 1995 trip. The dissolving comet reappeared in the spring of 2006, with at least eight pieces visible at first, and some of the fragments were generating their own sub-fragments.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured hundreds of pieces on April 18, 2006. (opens in new tab). It was the Spitzer Space Telescope’s turn to study the comet between May 4th and 6th, and it was able to view 45 of the 58 comet fragments using it’s Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) (opens in new tab).

SW 3 eventually disintegrated into over 68 parts, and its most recent appearance in March 2017 revealed that it is still breaking apart and shedding fresh bits with each trip through the inner solar system.

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More Meteor Showers Are Expected.

This year, there are numerous additional chances to see meteor showers.

Geminids_2017_1920x1080 JKB tweak
The Delta Aquariids will be seen best from the southern tropics on July 28 and 29, when the moon will be 74 percent full.

The Alpha Capricornids, an unusual meteor shower, peaks on the same night. Although this shower is significantly weaker, it has been known to create several brilliant fireballs when it is at its height. Everyone, regardless of whatever side of the equator they are on, will be able to see it.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak between August 11 and 12.

According to EarthSky’s meteor shower forecast, this is the meteor shower schedule for the remainder of the year.

  • 8th of October: Draconids
  • 21st of October: Orionids
  • 4–5 November: South Taurids
  • North Taurids, November 11-12
  • The Leonids are born on November 17th.
  • Geminids (December 13–14)
  • 22nd of December: Ursids

Dr. Josep M. Trigo-Rodrguez of the Institute of Space Sciences (CSIC-IEEC) supervised Spain’s Fireballs and Meteorites Research Network (SPMN), which noticed a handful of shooting stars likely related to the occurrence on Friday (May 27) and posted a thread on Twitter with videos.

Further Augmentation.

“Are you prepared for the campaign?” One of the tweets included a video of a slow-moving meteor becoming fairly brilliant on an all-sky camera (opens in new tab).

lyrid meteor 2022

(Space.com provided the Spanish translation.) At 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT), the first bolide was reported from three different places, all of which were captured on video. Antonio Lasala recorded the viewing places in Aragon (northeastern Spain), Jaime Zamorano from Madrid, and Jordi Donate from Valencia.

“These aggregates, while dissolving… have a significantly sluggish angular speed and form a train of shards; helpful qualities to identify them,” the network tweeted alongside a video of the Valencian meteor(opens in new tab).
From Friday (May 27) through Sunday (May 28), the NASA-sponsored Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance(opens in new tab) (CAMS) captured possible tau Hercules (May 29). The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute is hosting the project, which is supervised by Peter Jenniskens, a SETI research scientist.

While CAMS said that the early display might be a precursor to “further augmentation” of a meteor shower, the network also stated that it is uncertain (and “possibly” improbable) that the meteors seen so far are connected to the 1995 comet disintegration that could cause a storm in the sky tonight. To put it another way, there’s no guarantee that there will be a lot of meteors, however, that might change.

Photographic Evidence of Early Tau Herculid Meteors.

CAMS reported seeing five tau Hercules on Friday in Texas, Arizona, Namibia, and BeNeLux (between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Meteors were seen at CAMS stations in Namibia, Arkansas, and Arizona on Saturday,

and more were observed at CAMS locations in Namibia, Chile, Arkansas, Arizona, and California on Sunday (May 29). Although some shooting stars were as dim as magnitude 13, the highest brightness of these tau Herculids was -3 magnitude (brighter than the star Sirius at -1.47). In dark sky circumstances, a normal viewer may see stars as dim as magnitude 6 with their unaided eye.

“Some of them were bright enough to capture,” the network added, “but the general distribution suggests a shower rich in feeble meteors.” According to CAMS, the majority of the meteors were near the magnitude 4 detection limit of common video cameras in the network.

If you want to see the sky display for yourself, look for it at about 1 a.m. on Tuesday (May 31) on the east coast or at 10 p.m. on Monday on the west coast (May 30). NASA recommends that people gaze north-northwest of the brilliant star Arcturus in the constellation Boötes. (These are the names used by the International Astronomical Union; your culture may use other names.)

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The Next Skywatching Event.

Meteor showers are, thankfully, a common occurrence. So, if the tau Herculids are weak or disappear entirely,

a brand new meteor shower

prepare ready for the next ones with our 2022 meteor showers. The dazzling Perseids peak on August 11 and 12. August is a month to look forward to.

Check out our top cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography if you’re planning to shoot the Tau Herculid meteor shower or want to prepare your gear for the next skywatching event. More planning suggestions for photographing meteors and meteor showers may be found in our article on how to shoot meteors and meteor showers.

Editor’s note: If you take a spectacular shot of the Tau Herculids meteor shower and want to share it with Space.com’s readers, email spacephotos@space.com with your photo(s), comments, and name and location.

Marissa Figgs
I write picture books, for middle grade, and young adults, some of which have won prizes, been filmed, or become bestsellers. I've ghostwritten for Pixar and developed teen work for Alloy Entertainment. I think heartfelt writing is the finest. It doesn't have to be personal, but it must be visceral. You want them riveted from the first word, page, or sentence, no matter how painful or unpleasant, and that's my expertise.
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