Bay Area could soon get a glimpse of a never-before-seen ‘meteor storm.’ Here’s how

A spectacular new cosmic show might erupt in the night sky over the Bay Area on Memorial Day — but then again, it might not.

Stargazers are in suspense over the Tau Herculids, a never-before-seen meteor shower that could possibly appear around 10 pm on May 30. Made of broken-up particles from Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which began to break up in 1995, the debris is expected to intersect with the Earth’s orbit again next week — but this time, it could be visible to the naked eye.

NASA models show that if the particles were ejected with high enough speed at the time of its dissolution, North America could see the meteor shower.

But if the particles were slow, don’t expect to see much more than the usual constellations and perhaps an orbiting satellite that night.

“It could be a meteor storm, which is spectacular,” said Robert Lunsford, the fireball report coordinator for the American Meteor Society. “But it could be so dim that no one sees it but a radar.”

For there to be a meteor storm, the comet’s debris had to be ejected at nearly 60 miles per hour, which would result in “a prolific display of very slow, bright and colorful meteors,” according to a journal article by Joe Rao, an astronomy lecturer at the American Museum of Natural History.

However, the debris from the comet is moving in the same general direction as Earth, meaning any meteors would move far slower than expected for a meteor shower, according to the American Meteor Society. While that doesn’t entirely prevent a fireball storm from happening, it does make it more unlikely.

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