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Meteor swarm through fresh comet debris?

Meteor swarm through fresh comet debris?
Written by insideindyhomes

Rare spectacle: With a little luck, residents of the western hemisphere could see a dense meteor swarm with dozens of shooting stars per second tonight. Triggers are fresh debris from comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which broke up in 2006. If the earth flies exactly through this tail of debris, there is a particularly lush shooting star rain. Here in Central Europe, however, it will take place tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. – and thus after sunrise.

In 1995, astronomers were able to observe a special spectacle: a comet broke up right before their eyes. The nucleus of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which passes Earth every five years, broke up into five pieces. During subsequent passages in 2001 and 2006, this piece of debris continued to break up – creating spectacular outbursts of brightness and debris trails recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes.

Hubble image of a shattering fragment of Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 on April 18, 2006. © NASA/ESA, H Weaver (APL/JHU), M Mutchler and Z Levay (STScI)

Box seat for North America

Tonight—or early tomorrow our time—Earth could fly through one of the dense clouds of debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. Should this happen, a particularly lush, dense meteor swarm would result. There could be dozens of falling stars per second. This Tau Herculid meteor shower is particularly visible in North America, where the narrow peak of the falling star shower occurs at night.

Here in Central Europe we are less fortunate: If the earth hits the trail of debris, it will do so according to astronomers’ forecasts at around 07:00 a.m. our time. At this time the sun is already in the sky and outshines the meteors by far. But at least: In July and August 2022, the large remnants of comets will pass by Earth again. This renewed passage could result in more tails of debris – this gives hope for future meteor showers caused by the Tau Hercules.

An “all or nothing” event

However: Whether the earth will fly directly through the tail of debris this year depends on three factors – and whether they all apply has not yet been 100% clarified. The first requirement, according to which the break-up of the comet must have released a large amount of dust and debris, seems to have been fulfilled – telescopic images of the debris tails suggest this. Second, the debris must have flown in the right direction to now cross Earth’s orbit.

The third requirement is that the debris from the comet must not fall below a certain flight speed: “This will be an all-or-nothing event,” explains meteor researcher Bill Cooke from NASA. “If the debris was traveling more than 350 kilometers per hour when it was released from the comet, we could see a very nice meteor shower. If they were slower, none of it will reach Earth and there will be no meteors from that comet.”

Source: NASA

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