In late 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 exploded. Next week, some of the debris might hit Earth, possibly providing the material necessary for an awesome meteor shower or meteor storm.

Multiple forecasters agree that a meteor shower could erupt this Monday night, May 30th, when Earth runs into one or more debris streams from Comet 73P. The display could be as intense as a meteor storm (1000 or more meteors per hour) or as weak as nothing at all. No one knows how much debris is inside the approaching streams, so meteor rates are hard to estimate.

Whatever happens, people in North America are in a good position to see it. Almost the entire continent will be in Moon-free darkness when the shower peaks. Maximum activity is expected to occur about midnight CDT Monday night. The shower’s radiant (the point from which all meteors stream) will be almost straight above Baja California. For people in Central Texas, that point will be nearly directly overhead.

This isn’t the first time Earth has sampled debris from Comet 73P. In 1930, at least a handful of meteors were observed shortly after the comet’s discovery by German astronomers. The meteors emerged from a radiant near 4th magnitude star tau Herculis, so the shower has since been called “the tau Herculid meteor shower.” NASA cameras also detected minor tau Herculid activity in 2011 and 2017.

Based on past performance, the tau Herculids seems unlikely to produce a good show. For nearly a century the shower has been a dud. The X-factor this year is fresh material from the comet’s catastrophic breakup in 1995. If the new meteoroids reach Earth–and that is a big IF–shooting stars will fly from a point near the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes.

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