2022, May 30-31:  Sky Watcher’s Alert!

May 30-31, 2022:  A fragmented comet may put on a display in the southwestern sky around midnight on this evening.   Earth may encounter debris from a comet informally known as SW3.

NASA Spitzer Space Telescope shows three of the many fragments making up Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3.
Photo Caption – NASA Spitzer Space Telescope shows three of the many fragments making up Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Special Sky Watcher’s Alert!  Unlike the predictability or the planet’s motions through the constellations along the ecliptic, some astronomy events are unpredictable.

During the night of May 30-31 around midnight in the Central Time Zone, the fragments of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) may put on a dramatic display of a meteor storm or be a dud.  This is an unpredictable event.  The event is expected to occur during a few hours around the peak time.

In the fall of 1995, the comet fragmented into larger pieces and a trail of debris.  The remnants continue to revolve around the sun and this year the earth interacts with the stream of debris.

Meteors occur when dust particles and larger gravels hit the atmosphere and vaporize.  Friction vaporizes the falling debris and we see a “shooting star,” a meteor.  Some of the fragments are larger and are very bright when they vaporize, bright enough to temporarily illuminate the ground.

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event from cometary debris.

This weekend’s event is impossible to predict accurately, from a major meteor shower to a complete non-event. The rate could be a few dozen to thousands each hour.

2022, May 30-31: The bright star Arcturus is near the point for the Schwassmann-Wachmann meteor storm.
Chart Caption – 2022, May 30-31: The bright star Arcturus is near the point for the Schwassmann-Wachmann meteor storm. (NASA photo)

The meteors are visible anywhere in the sky.  They seem to emerge from a region of space near the bright star Arcturus and its constellation Boötes, known as the radiant.

At the peak hour, the topaz star is over two-thirds of the way up in the southwestern sky.  It is the brightest star in the sky at this hour.  The kite-shape constellation is above Arcturus.

Take a look at what you see and put your notes in the comment section.

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