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Stargazers may feast on meteor shower over Utah

Posted at 8:54 AM, May 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-30 11:56:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A spectacular meteor shower could be in store for those who look up over Utah late Monday night. Or it could be a colossal dud, no one is really sure.

The new tau Herculid shower is forecast to peak over North America, but whether it actually does is still, ironically, up in the air.

NASA says Earth is expected to pass through the debris trail of a broken comet called SW3.

Discovered in 1930, the comet wasn't seen for another four decades until the late 1970s. Then, in the 1990s, SW3 shattered into several pieces and continues to break apart.

If the fragments of the comet are traveling fast enough, a meteor shower will appear over Utah in lower elevations of the sky at around 11 p.m. Monday night. Utah's Weather Authority team believes the skies will be clear enough to see a meteor shower if one occurs.

"If" being the key word.

“This is going to be an all or nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was traveling more than 220 miles per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower. If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet,” said NASA's Bill Cooke.

Another advantage to seeing the new meteor shower is that the Moon is new, meaning there will be barely any moonlight to interfere with meteors.