How a Meteor Shower Tau Herculid Might Explode This Month

Tau Herculid is a minor meteor shower that in most years produces little or no meteors, however this year Tau Herculid may become much more intense, in a historical change. This is due to happen at the end of this month.

Back in 1930, astronomers spotted comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 and at the time a meteor shower was predicted to occur as Earth passed close to the debris field of the comet.

Some people even claimed that there was a meteor shower seen back in the 1930’s but that was never confirmed. No significant meteor shower associated with the comet has been seen since then.

But in 1995, the comet broke up into four parts that created a lot of debris. By 2006 it had broken up into at least 68 pieces creating even more debris.

Click to enlarge the Tau Herculid star chart

Our planet has a nice chance of hitting this debris field this year, although some astronomers’ calculations suggest it may not happen. The moon will also be new on the night of May 30th-31st, meaning conditions should be perfect for meteor viewing clouds permitting.

But there are a few things that must occur for the meteor shower to appear. The first is that there needs to be a large debris field. This seems to be the case.

The second is that the debris must have moved forward in its orbit to intersect with the Earth's orbit. This can happen as the debris falls towards the Sun and picks up speed. Finally, the debris must have shot out fast from the comet to assume this new orbit. It seems that this could be the case as the 1995 break-up was very intense.

Strangely, the position of the Tau Herculid meteor shower seems to change each year; this time it should be radiating near the bright star Arcturus, peaking about four minutes past 5 in the morning UTC on the 31st of May 2022. Obviously, you should also keep an eye out for meteors either side of this evening.

There is a chance that this meteor shower could become a more significant annual meteor shower over the coming years. Although the media are predicting a meteor storm.

I am going to try and capture it myself and will report back on any significant findings. It would be great if you could send us your results as well. If you would like to capture the meteor trails a camera capable of long exposures is all you need, a simple ten second exposure with a ISO of about 6400 should give quite good results. Alternatively, you might want to watch this episode on how to build a meteor camera using a Raspberry Pi.

If you would like to view the break up of the comet please view the below episode.


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