Possible outburst of tau Herculids meteors tonight!

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)

There might be a meteor shower emerging from Hercules tonight (May 30-31), so keep your eyes peeled on the region.

Astronomers are keeping an eye on the shards of broken-up comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (also known as SW 3) to see if that generates a stream of little space rocks harmlessly blasting into Earth's atmosphere.

If you cannot see the event in person, you can watch the potential tau Herculids meteor storm online tonight with a livestream from the Virtual Telescope Project.

Previously, NASA astronomer Bill Cooke called the potential meteor shower milestone an "all or nothing event" in an agency blog post.

"If the debris from SW 3 was traveling more than 220 miles [354 kilometers] per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower," Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's meteoroid environment office at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in the statement.

"If the debris had slower ejection speeds," Cooke added, "then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet."

 Related: Meteor shower guide 2022: Dates and viewing advice 

Best cameras for astrophotography

The Nikon D850 DSLR

(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.

Another factor behind whether we will see a "storm" or not will be whether Earth passes through the thickest part of the comet's debris stream. The stream is subject to the gravitational forces of our planet, the moon, the sun and other planets in our solar system, so that is hard to predict.

But things that are working in North Americans' favor include the new moon, meaning that there is less natural light pollution to interfere with observations and the fact that Hercules rides high in the sky overnight (away from atmospheric interference low on the horizon.)

The place to watch for the potential meteors would be the constellation Boötes, a little north-northwest of its bright star Arcturus. (These are the International Astronomical Union names for the constellation and star, respectively, although you may use different names depending on your culture.)

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 comet has a temperamental history. The comet displayed bursts of brightness in years such as 1995 and 2000 during fragmentation and shed before observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. There are at least 68 pieces associated with the comet as of its last appearance in 2017.

The comet was discovered 92 years ago by German astronomers, Friedrich Carl Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann on May 2, 1930, and was the third co-discovered small world by that pair.

The comet comes as close to Earth as 5.7 million miles (9.2 million km), orbiting the sun roughly every 5.4 years, according to Space.com astronomy columnist Joe Rao. 

If the meteor shower doesn't pan out as planned, or you get clouded out or busy, instead consider some upcoming meteor showers of 2022 to plan your next excursion. The next major one is the Perseids on Aug. 11 to 12, among the brightest events of the year.

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