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Debris may from the Tau Herculids Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 — SW3 for short — may allow Earthlings to see a meteor shower tonight — in parts of the United States it will be early Tuesday morning. There is a possibility the comet will not cause a light show in the sky.
The SW3 was first discovered by German observers Arno Arthur Wachman and Arnold Schwassmann in 1930. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that it was spotted again. The next time the comet was viewed, it was in the 1990s and it was nearly in 70 pieces.
In 2006, the pieces passed by Earth once again. Since then the comet fragments have continued to shatter. Space scientists became excited in 2009 when NASA stated that observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope indicated some of the pieces were moving fast enough to be visible by the naked eye.
If it happens, stargazers will be able to see the fragments around 1 a.m. EST, 12 a.m. CT, and 10 p.m. on the West Coast.
Meteor showers are caused by particles shed by comets. They appear as a dusty trail behind the “dirty snowball” of ice, rock, and gas that makes up the comet’s nucleus. As the particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere it creates colorful streaks.
The moon is currently in its “new” phase so it will not obscure viewers from seeing the meteor shower. However, NASA stated there is no guarantee the dazzling display will actually occur.
There are roughly 30 meteor showers that occur annually, that are visible without the use of a telescope or other scientific equipment. Some of these meteor showers have been around for centuries. For instance, around 2,000 years ago Chinese astronomers record the Perseid meteor shower. It has graced the skies in August every year since then.
Those awake at those perspective times the comet debris potentially flies past Earth can look up to the sky to chance a glance at the light show.
Written by Sheena Robertson
KCRA: A new meteor shower could light up the sky on Monday. How to see the tau Herculids in Northern California
CBS: New meteor shower could dazzle night sky on Monday
National Geographic: Meteor
Top, Inset, and Featured Image Courtesy of Diana Robinson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License