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Look up tonight (30 May) or tomorrow morning, and you might just see the Tau Herculids meteor shower light up the sky.
Earth is predicted to pass through the debris of a broken comet in the next few hours, and the sky could be set ablaze with up to 1,000 shooting stars per hour.
However, NASA has warned that it’s likely to be an ‘all or nothing’ event, meaning if comet fragments aren’t moving fast enough, we earthlings won’t spot a thing.
The Independent reports that the peak of the Tau Herculids will occur between 4.45am and 5.17am GMT (12.45pm to 1.17am EDT on Tuesday 31 May, or 9.45 to 10:17pm PDT) tomorrow (31 May), and could light up the sky above North America.
Meteor showers take place when Earth passes through the tail of a comet as it orbits around the sun.
Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is behind the Tau Herculids meteor shower, which was first discovered in 1930.
In 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 grew ‘hundreds of times brighter’, and astronomers suspected it had fragmented.
When SW3 neared earth again in 2006, more than 70 fragmented pieces were identified by astronomers, who believed it would continue to break up.
Whether or not the comet has fragmented further is key to whether we’ll be able to see a meteor shower in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
The sky is set to be particularly clear as the moon is new, which means there’ll be barely any moonlight obscuring the shower.
Bill Cooke, head of Nasa’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Centre, said in a statement: “This is going to be an all or nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was travelling more than 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower.”
He added: “If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.”
Inverse notes that no special equipment is needed to watch the Tau Herculids meteor shower, but a little patience may come in handy.
The outlet advises waiting for around ten minutes to see if the sky will light up but adds UK spectators might want to start observing the skies a few hours early.
It’s also worth reporting anything you do see to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) as collected data helps meteor science.
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