Monday’s potential meteor shower could be the storm of the century or a sea of nothing.
If the stars align, the tau Herculids meteor shower could bring a dazzling show to Vancouver skies on Monday, May 30.
It’s unclear if it will actually materialize, but if it does, it will peak just as Vancouver slips into twilight around 10 p.m., according to Marley Leacock, an astronomer at the HR MacMillian Space Center.
“Once the moon sets around 10:50 p.m., it will be easier to see,” she says. “If it’s as bright as they say, there will be meteors all night.”
So why the uncertainty? Leacock explains that the comet (Schwassmann-Wachmann 3) that produces the debris needed for such a shower hasn’t been easily observed since a 1995 breakup event. That makes it difficult to estimate the density and positioning of the debris stream that forms the meteorites. Without those two key factors, it’s difficult to determine the intensity of a meteor shower.
Still, astronomers are excited by the clumps of debris they’ve seen, sparking debate about the possibility of a meteor storm on par with the legendary Leonids of 1966, when thousands of meteors fell every minute. Everything has to line up correctly.
And we won’t know if that happened until, well, it does.
Andrew Ferreira of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Vancouver encourages stargazers to look skyward despite the ambiguity.
“Whether it’s a storm or a drip, it’s always a good time. I am glad to see an increased interest in astronomy,” she says.
To find the radiant, where meteors seem to come from, draw an imaginary arc from the handle of the Big Dipper to Arcturus, the first bright star you’ll come to. Any shooting stars will appear halfway between those two points.
Current cloud cover forecasts look favorably clear for that evening, a must to watch for the event. Leacock recommends staying up to date on the forecast at cleardarksky.com.
“If the weather holds up, I’ll take a pick! It would be very exciting if we had a meteor storm,” she says.
Sky watchers should choose to travel as far away from city lights as possible to avoid light pollution that will obscure the clarity of celestial bodies. While this works best in more remote locations, any location that has a higher elevation will also provide more ideal viewing conditions.
with files of elana shepert