A very rare meteor outburst may occur as May ends

There could be an incredible display or nothing at all
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 11:38 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Have you ever rolled a die or flipped a coin? The results they produce are unknown and completely chance-based. The same can be said about a potential meteor shower outburst early next week.

A meteor outburst is possible the night of May 30-31.
A meteor outburst is possible the night of May 30-31.(WSFA 12 News)

Put simply, there’s a chance it may happen, there’s an even greater chance it won’t.

Don’t let that deter you from venturing out next Monday night though. A meteor outburst is an extremely rare astronomical event, but if they do happen the results can be jaw-dropping.

These meteor outbursts -- sometimes referred to as meteor storms -- have so many moving variables that makes them exceptionally difficult to predict. Some of the variables associated with potential meteor outbursts aren’t known at all. Obviously that makes it very hard to know what’s going to happen. That is 100% the case with next week’s potential event.

The potential meteor outburst stems from debris left behind by comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) after a massive 1995 fragmentation event in which the comet began breaking apart. It actually continues to break apart in the 21st century.

A meteor outburst is possible the night of May 30-31.
A meteor outburst is possible the night of May 30-31.(WSFA 12 News)

Studies suggest -- and this one too -- that Earth will pass through debris left behind by comet 73P. The result? If the fragmented debris moves fast enough and is large enough, a meteor outburst is possible the night of May 30-31.

Experts say the window of opportunity is 11:45 p.m. Monday to 12:17 a.m. Tuesday. I suggest heading out an hour before that and staying out until about 1 a.m. to ensure you don’t miss it if it’s late. If you’re going to check this out, here’s what to do:

  • Head to a dark place away from city lights
  • Ensure a clear view of the southwestern sky as meteors will appear to radiate from there
  • Give your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to total darkness (this means avoiding using your phone prior to the event starting)
  • Dress comfortably and take a chair
  • Just watch and hope for the experience of a lifetime

Fortunately this possible outburst will happen right after the moon goes through its “new” phase. This means essentially no moonlight will be present in Alabama’s night sky. Not only that but Mother Nature will likely cooperate with little cloud cover in the forecast centered around 12 a.m. CDT next Tuesday.

Don’t forget: this event is not set in stone. If it does happen, you will be amazed. If it doesn’t, well, at least you enjoyed nature for a couple of hours. If it winds up happening and you capture any photos or videos please send them to me on Facebook, Twitter or WSFA.

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