This Memorial Day weekend, Earthlings – especially those in North America – may be treated to the sight of a new meteor.
those meteors It can ignite when our planet passes through the pieces of a decaying comet called Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3). It’s not just a file Exciting opportunity for skywatchers; Cometologists are eagerly anticipating the encounter, too. According to NASA, meteor showers can startle (or disappoint) overnight on Memorial Day (Monday, May 30) and last until early Tuesday.
SW3 is fairly close to the sun comet Standards ; It completes the orbit of our star once every five years. In 1995, it began to disintegrate, shattering into dozens of smaller pieces leaving behind a cloud of debris that continues to orbit the Sun.
We’ve seen comets split before. One in 100 periodic comets—and possibly more—may eventually separate, according to William Rich, an astronomer at the Sophia Science Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
Famously, in the ’90s, Comet Shoemaker Levi 9 It collapsed, and large parts of it collided with Jupiter. But even if SW3’s ongoing disintegration looks somewhat similar, the process is “almost not the same,” Rich told Space.com.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes comets to break up. It could be one or a combination of several factors. The Shoemaker-Levy 9 collapsed under the pressure of Jupiter’s strong gravity, for example. But some other comets may disintegrate when the volatile compounds inside them such as water are heated and go from solid to gas.
In addition, the comet’s constant oscillation from the inner solar system to the cooler outer reaches and back places a thermal stress on the body. Given enough frequent pressure, something might give out.
Anyway, SW3 disengages. And for the past several decades, Earth’s orbit has been bringing our planet closer to traversing the cloud of debris. Finally, this year seems to be the year we’re getting through. If that’s really the case, a lot of comet debris will fall off Earth’s atmosphere And they burn like meteors, some of which can be amazing.
Astronomers certainly hope this will happen; They are eager to get a rare close-up look at the fragments of a celestial body. In fact, an astronomer, Jeremy VaupillonShe plans to get even closer by flying in a jet plane over New Mexico and Arizona during a meteor shower.
“By flying through it, even knowing it’s there, it’s indicative of the particles staying,” Rich told Space.com. “We don’t actually know that. Some are icy, and they don’t survive.”
When comet fragments enter Earth’s atmosphere, scientists can watch how they break apart, which can reveal information about their composition. And some of these bits may come from the depths of a comet, a world that astronomers cannot reach just by looking at an object with a telescope.
Additionally, potential meteor showers provide a rare opportunity for astronomers to get their hands on some comet material. In the past, after all, NASA has flown particle-picking devices through meteor streams to capture dust falling from the early days of the solar system.
“It’s basically like doing a space mission, going to a comet and back again, except the comet shot them here,” Rich said.