(WVNS) — Thinking back to 1930 Germany, one may not immediately think space exploration and considering the time and place, it’s understandable. But for two German astronomers at the Hamburg Observatory in Bergedorf, Germany the hunt for asteroids was on.
On May 2nd, 1930, Friedrich Carl Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann discovered a new comet and named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachann 3. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of this comet before today as it’s not a particularly spectacular comet.
The dim comet does have a rather close orbit to our planet and passes by us one every 5 years or so. However, the comet is so dim it was lost to skywatchers shortly after its discovery. From 1930 to 1979, comet 73P/SW3 was no where to be found. The come was found in 1979 but lost again until 1985 and found once again in 1990.
Not exactly an exciting history. That is until the fall of 1995. According to space.com, it was at this time the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams began receiving “numerous reports from observers worldwide of independent discoveries.” The reports told of a visible comet in the evening skies with a rather impressive tail. But it wasn’t a new comet, it was the hard to find 73P/SW3 comet.
The rather dull comet grew brighter and brighter becoming visible to the naked eye. While this is not expected for 2022, it points to why scientists are calling for the possibility of a meteor storm across North America this Memorial Day.
In 1995, 73P/SW3 began breaking up spraying fragments in all directions in space. The comet has made a few more passes by Earth since 1995 allowing astronomers to study and observe the comet. In 2006, observers found the comet had broken into 8 pieces and those 8 pieces continued to spray particles into space. The same year, the Hubble Space Telescope captured at least a dozen fragments. The Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera discovered the comet had fractured into nearly 50 pieces. In 2017, that number had climbed to over 60 fragments. With each new pass through our solar system, the comet continues to disintegrate leading us to this weekend in 2022.
With all these observations and trajectory calculations, astronomers are expecting all this comet debris to come closer to our planet Monday night into Tuesday morning, May 30th to May 31st. In the nature of the vacuum of space, larger particles of the comet, thanks to the initial break up, have sped up and are now ahead of the comet.
That is what is known. The unknown is what this means for Earth Monday night. If calculations and assumptions about the break up process are correct North America could be treated to one spectacular meteor storm not seen since the late 1800’s. Thousands of meteors an hour would be an amazing sight. Of course, if these assumptions and calculations are slightly off, it could just be another uneventful night as 73P/SW3 flies by Earth without a single sighting.
If you are hoping to do so sky watching for the possibility of the tau Herculid meteor shower, find yourself a clear view of the night sky away from city lights around 1 A.M. EDT. Given the nature of this comet, there is a possibility of a meteor outburst around this time, give or take a bit. Happy Hunting and remember to make a wish if you find yourself a shooting star.
For more information about the potential shower and other events, you can look on www.space.com