Possible early tau Herculid meteors caught on camera

Artist's illustration of a meteor shower.
The tau Herculids from comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann may make an appearance May 30-31. (Image credit: Olga Beliaeva via Getty Images)

Should we be getting ready for a meteor storm tonight?

While predictions are still all over the place about how many shooting stars will be generated from 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, it appears a few meteors could have fallen into our atmosphere already as Earth plows into the debris stream.

The tau Herculids, as the new meteor shower is called, is expected to peak with possible storm conditions tonight (May 30 to 31). They have likely already been spotted in numerous countries in projects led by Spain and NASA.

Spain's Fireballs and Meteorites Research Network (SPMN), coordinated by Dr. Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez from the Institute of Space Sciences (CSIC-IEEC), spotted a couple of shooting stars probably associated with the event Friday (May 27) and posted a thread on Twitter with videos.

"Ready for the campaign?" one of the tweets said, along with footage of a slow-moving meteor getting quite bright in an all-sky camera. (The Spanish was translated by Space.com.)

Related: How to watch the potential tau Herculids meteor storm live online tonight

The first bolide was recorded at 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT) from three separate locations, all caught on camera. Those viewing spots were in Aragon (northeastern Spain) and recorded by Antonio Lasala, from Madrid by Jaime Zamorano, and from Valencia by Jordi Donet.

"These aggregates, when disintegrating ... have a markedly slow angular speed and create a train of fragments; useful characteristics to identify them," the network tweeted along with footage of the Valencian meteor.

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(Image credit: Nikon)

If you're looking for a good camera for meteor showers and astrophotography, our top pick is the Nikon D850. Check out our best cameras for astrophotography for more and prepare for the tau Herculids with our guide on how to photograph a meteor shower.

The NASA-sponsored Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) also recorded probable tau Herculids from Friday (May 27) through Sunday (May 29). The project is hosted by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and led by Peter Jenniskens, a research scientist for SETI.

While CAMS said the early show might be a prelude to "further enhancement" of a meteor shower, the network noted it is unclear (and "perhaps" unlikely) that the meteors spotted so far are related to the 1995 breakup of the comet that might generate a storm in the sky tonight. In other words, there's no firm indication yet that there would be a lot of meteors coming up, although that may change.

Five tau Herculids were spotted Friday at CAMS locations in Texas, Arizona, Namibia and BeNeLux (between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), CAMS reported. On Saturday, meteors were spotted at CAMS locations in Namibia, Arkansas and Arizona, then more were found Sunday (May 29) at CAMS locations in Namibia, Chile, Arkansas, Arizona and California.

The place to watch for the potential meteors would be the constellation Boötes, a little north-northwest of its bright star Arcturus. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The peak brightness for these tau Herculids was -3 magnitude (brighter than the star Sirius at -1.47), although some shooting stars were as faint as magnitude 13. For comparison, a typical observer in dark sky conditions can see stars as faint as magnitude 6 with their naked eye.

"Some of these were bright enough to be photographed, but overall the distribution implies a shower rich in faint meteors," the network said. Most of the meteors were close to the magnitude 4 detection limit of typical video cameras in the network, CAMS added.

If you're ready to look for the sky show for yourself, watch around 1 a.m. on the east coast Tuesday (May 31) or 10 p.m. on the west coast Monday (May 30). NASA suggests people look at the constellation Boötes, somewhat north-northwest of its bright star Arcturus. (These are the International Astronomical Union names, but your culture may have different ones.)  

Meteor showers, happily, are a regular thing. So if the tau Herculids are faint or fizzle altogether, get read instead for the next ones using our upcoming meteor showers of 2022. August is one to look forward to, as the bright Perseids peak Aug. 11 and 12.

If you're hoping to photograph the tau Herculid meteor shower, or want to prepare your gear for the next skywatching event, check out our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography. Read our guide on how to photograph meteors and meteor showers for more helpful tips to plan out your photo session.

Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing photo of the tau Herculids meteor shower and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace