ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — You may (or may not) have seen on the internet or heard a local scientist discussing the possibility of a “once in a lifetime” meteor shower event to occur over North America late Memorial Day night into the next morning. 

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Let’s break down what to expect from this and go over the odds of seeing it in our backyard.

From the sources I’ve seen, it appears that this possibility comes from the Comet called 75P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 that exploded back in 1995. It just so happens that the debris from this comet has a chance of hitting Earth and is being referred to as the Tau Herculid meteor shower. 

How did this knowledge come to be? A small piece of this broken comet was caught disintegrating over Zaragoza, a city in Spain by the Spanish Fireball Network just a few days ago. This could mean that a larger cloud of debris may not be far behind resulting in a large burst of comet debris, or a meteor shower for us here on Earth.

What are the chances of seeing it?

Predicting the number of meteors that come from disintegrating comet debris is difficult because no one knows exactly how many pieces will be in the clusters that end up running into Earth from time to time.

What we do know is that the debris stream could be as intense as showing up to 1000 meteors per hour (roughly 16 meteors per minute); essentially making it a “meteor storm”. Or, we could end up seeing nothing at all. Until the moment of the shower itself, this element remains a mystery.

Let’s say we do end up seeing this meteor shower. If we do, it would look a lot busier in the night sky than in typical circumstances. Since most meteor showers average around 50-75 meteors per hour this would be a uniquely active meteor shower and a really cool thing to see if this plays out. 

Anyone located in North America is favored to view this meteor shower since our hemisphere will be in the middle of nighttime with a “moon-less” sky. The problem is that we don’t know for sure whether the Earth will intersect with the path of the incoming debris or not. With that in mind, on the equally possible chance the debris doesn’t collide with Earth, we’d see nothing at all, and life would go on just the same.

This type of comet has a history of under-performing in the appearance category, so while I don’t think we should be getting our hopes up too high, any sky or space lover with any interest in seeing this potential show know that if there’s a chance, there’s always enough hope to go around.

Image courtesy: spaceweatherarchive.com

Peak meteor shower time will be around 1 a.m. early Tuesday morning, but between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. will be a safe window of opportunity.  Local sky conditions are expected to remain mostly clear overnight across the entirety of WNY. We also don’t have a bright moon that would wash out some of the display. These are two critical ingredients setting the table for a fantastic display. Now all we need is for the debris to actually show up. Good luck!

~ Meteorologist Christine Gregory