A brand-new meteor shower could light up tonight’s Memorial Day holiday sky on Monday and Tuesday (May 30-31) or it may be a big bust. But either way, you’ll be able to watch it live online.
Called the tau Herculids meteor shower, the event has the potential to be a so-called “meteor storm” of 1,000 shooting stars per hour overnight Monday as the Earth passes through debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. But it could also fizzle out completely, scientists just don’t know yet. One NASA scientist called it an “all or nothing event.”
You can watch live views of the possible meteor shower overnight Monday and early Tuesday in the livestream above from the Virtual Telescope Project led by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi in Ceccano, Italy. The free webcast will begin at 12 am. EDT (0400 GMT) on May 31 and will feature views from all-sky cameras in Arizona and Brazil, Masi told Space.com. You can also watch it directly from the Virtual Telescope Project website (opens in new tab) at start time.
The potential for the meteor shower comes from the disintegrating nature of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. The comet was first discovered in 1930 and orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, coming within 5.7 million miles (9.2 million kilometers) of the sun each time.
But it is far from certain that the dusty, gassy debris from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will spawn an impressive meteor shower, a meteor storm or anything at all.
Bill Cooke, a NASA astronomer who tracks meteor showers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has said it all depends on the speed of the material from the comet.
“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,” Cooke said in a recent statement (opens in new tab). “If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet.”
It was Cooke who said the tau Herculid meteor shower would be “all or nothing” in the same statement.
Outbursts from the comet between 1995 and 2000 increased its brightness, and in April 2006 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a major fragmentation event as the comet split apart. By March 2017, as many as 68 different fragments remained of the comet.
To see any meteors from the tau Herculid meteor shower, observers should try to get away from city lights as any “shooting stars” will likely be faint due to their slow speed, NASA has said.
“If it makes it to us this year, the debris from SW 3 will strike Earth’s atmosphere very slowly, traveling at just 10 miles [16 km] per second — which means much fainter meteors than those belonging to the eta Aquariids,” NASA wrote in a guide (opens in new tab).”But North American stargazers are taking particular note this year, because the tau Herculid radiant will be high in the night sky at the forecast peak time.”
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My Thesis in 400 Words: Anne Boucher | Institute for Research on Exoplanets – News | Institute for Research on Exoplanets
Anne Boucher, an iREx student at the Université de Montréal, submitted her doctoral thesis at the end of 2021. She summarises the research project she carried out as part of her Ph.D here.
During my Ph.D, I became interested in the atmosphere of gas giant exoplanets that orbit very close to their star. Thanks to a technique called transmission spectroscopy, I studied the chemical composition of their atmosphere, which gives a lot of information on their formation and evolution mechanisms. The detailed study of these exoplanets, which we sometimes call hot Jupiters or hot sub-Saturns, provides a better understanding of the physical, chemical, and dynamical processes that govern the atmosphere of these celestial objects.
I mainly used data from the SPIRou instrument, a high-resolution spectropolarimeter that operates in the near infrared and is installed at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. We first observed HD 189733 b, one of the most studied exoplanets, to build the analysis codes. By exploiting transit spectroscopy, we were able to confirm the presence of water and determine its abundance. The results obtained, consistent with previous studies, indicate that the atmosphere of HD 189733 b is relatively clear (free of clouds) and that the planet likely formed far from its star, where it is cold enough to find water in the form of ice. A strong blueshift of water absorption was observed, which could be a consequence of the presence of strong winds in the atmosphere.
Next, we studied WASP-127 b, a less massive exoplanet, but much larger than Saturn. A recent study of data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the Spitzer Space Telescope could not differentiate between two atmospheric scenarios: a low carbon-to-oxygen (C/O) ratio with little carbon monoxide (CO), or a high ratio with a lot of CO. As this ratio helps to determine how a planet was formed, we decided to use SPIRou, which makes it possible to observe a band of CO not observable with HST and Spitzer. We were able to determine that there was very little CO and a very low C/O, which has rarely been observed, but which is supported by some more realistic training scenarios that vary over time. The SPIRou data also confirmed the presence of water and suggests that, if confirmed, there could even be hydroxyl (OH): an unexpected detection since the exoplanet is so cold.
This work has allowed to develop the expertise of the Université de Montréal in high resolution near-infrared transit spectroscopy, in particular with SPIRou, allowing to explore the atmospheric conditions of hot Jupiters and sub-Saturns. This first joint analysis made on high and low resolution transmission data allowed to obtain better constraints on the atmospheric parameters. This method is proving to be a very powerful tool for the study of atmospheres and will be even more so with the revolutionary capabilities of JWST.
Nicolas Cowan, Finalist for the 2021 Relève scientifique Prize – News | Institute for Research on Exoplanets
Nicolas Cowan, Professor at McGill University and a member of both iREx and the McGill Space Institute, is one of the finalists for the Relève Scientifique du Québec 2021 Prize, an award which aims to highlight the commitment and excellence in research of a person 40 years of age or younger.
Nick has been a Professor in the Departments of Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University since 2015. He specialises in astrobiology and mainly studies the surface and atmosphere of exoplanets. He is particularly interested in the climate of these planets found outside of our Solar System.
The researcher mainly uses space- and ground-based telescopes to collect and analyse data which he uses to study the characteristics of various exoplanets. More specifically, the data seeks to measure the reflection of clouds, detect the presence of greenhouse gases via the infrared signature of the atmosphere, and heat transport, i.e. the winds. These data are used to create maps of the surface and the temperature of exoplanets, a method commonly referred to as exo-cartography. The study of the exoplanets’ climate also allows us to learn a lot about that of our planet, Earth.
Nick’s commitment to the research community is illustrated in particular by his participation in numerous NASA and Canadian Space Agency committees to promote the study of planetary climates and to contribute to the planning of future space missions to study exoplanets.
In addition to his work as a researcher, Nick is also involved in the Astronomy in Indigenous Communities program, which aims to attract Indigenous youth to pursue a career in STEM.
It is with pride that the iREx congratulates Nicolas Cowan for this distinction.
About the Relève scientifique du Québec Prize
The Relève scientifique du Québec prize is awarded to a person aged 40 or under who has distinguished themselves by the excellence of their research and who demonstrates the ability to establish and maintain constructive and lasting links with the research community. All disciplines are recognised for this award. Each year one recipient and two finalists are selected.
NASA: Contact lost with spacecraft on way to test moon orbit – Phys.org
NASA said Tuesday it has lost contact with a $32.7 million spacecraft headed to the moon to test out a lopsided lunar orbit, but agency engineers are hopeful they can fix the problem.
After one successful communication and a second partial one on Monday, the space agency said it could no longer communicate with the spacecraft called Capstone. Engineers are trying to find the cause of the communications drop-off and are optimistic they can fix it, NASA spokesperson Sarah Frazier said Tuesday.
The spacecraft, which launched from New Zealand on June 28, had spent nearly a week in Earth orbit and had been successfully kick-started on its way to the moon, when contact was lost, Frazier said.
The 55-pound satellite is the size of a microwave oven and will be the first spacecraft to try out this oval orbit, which is where NASA wants to stage its Gateway outpost. Gateway would serve as a staging point for astronauts before they descend to the lunar surface.
The orbit balances the gravities of Earth and the moon and so requires little maneuvering and therefore fuel and allows the satellite—or a space station—to stay in constant contact with Earth.
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