However, there is no guarantee of a dazzling display even if the sky is clear and dark, NASA pointed out. It might do nothing.
The comet, officially known as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or SW3, was discovered in 1930 by German observers Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachman. It wasn’t spotted until the late 1970s, and in the 1990s the comet broke into several pieces, NASA said.
By the time SW3 passed Earth again in 2006, it was in nearly 70 pieces and has continued to fragment ever since, according to the release.
NASA said observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope published in 2009 indicated that some fragments were moving fast enough to be visible and exciting to space scientists.
Each year, there are about 30 meteor showers, which occur when Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid, visible to the naked eye.
“All or Nothing Event”
Debris from SW3 will hit Earth’s atmosphere more slowly than other meteor showers and it is the speed at which the debris hits rather than the size of the debris that causes the shower.
Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate into the night sky, although Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization, said the tau Herculids were misnamed. He said they would appear to radiate from a constellation known as Bootes, northwest of the bright orange star known as Arcturus (alpha Bootis).
“You don’t need to look directly overhead because meteors can appear in any part of the sky. They are actually more likely to appear at lower altitudes in the sky because at these altitudes, one is looking through a much thicker slice of the atmosphere that, looking straight up.”
More meteor showers
If the Herculid tau shower turns out to be a dud, fear not, there are several other opportunities to witness meteor showers this year.
The Delta Aquariids are best visible from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28-29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks the same night – the Alpha Capricornids. Although a much weaker downpour, it has been known to produce bright fireballs during its peak. It will be visible to everyone, regardless of which side of the equator they are on.
The most popular Perseid meteor shower of the year will peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.
- October 8: Draconids
- October 21: Orionids
- November 4-5: Southern Taurids
- November 11 to 12: Northern Taurids
- November 17: Leonids
- December 13 to 14: Geminids
- December 22: Ursids
Ashley Strickland contributed to this report.
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