A few weeks ago, news began to circulate of a possible meteor storm happening at the end of May – the first in two decades. Now researchers report on the possibility of another possible one, and it is happening in just two days. The culprit might be double asteroid 2006 GY2.
Meteor storms are regular meteor showers on steroids. The best meteor showers might deliver 100 celestial streaks in an hour, but most are in the “less than 20” category. During meteor storms, which are much more unusual, thousands of rocky debris fall through the atmosphere creating cosmic fireworks.
The conditions for these are rare. The Earth needs to pass through a dense cloud of debris for it to take place – 2006 GY2 being the type of asteroid known as a double minor planet may provide a dense stream of debris – and predicting if and when is going to happen is not exactly precise. Meteor showers come from the material left-over by comets and some asteroids as they orbit the Sun, crossing Earth’s path through the Solar System. Denser clumps often happen with regularity, but they can deliver anything from a slight increase to an epochal one, such as the Leonid meteor storm of November 17, 1966, when up to 20 meteors were seen per second†
The International Meteor Organization reports that 2006 GY2 has left a stream of debris behind and it might be sizable enough to produce a meteor storm. The only thing we need is for Earth to cross it, and our planet is about to do so on Sunday, May 15. The “minor planet” is made up of a 400-meter-wide (1,310-foot) asteroid in orbit with another one 80 meters (260 feet) in diameter.
The time of closest approach, meaning the debris will enter the atmosphere, is expected to be around 10:20 am UT (6:20 am ET) on Sunday. That means that US and Mexico will have the best view and better chance to observe if the meteor storm actually takes place.
But there is a slight problem. The Moon will be almost full – getting ready for the total lunar eclipse that will take place Sunday night – so the brightness of our natural satellite might hinder observations.
Meteoroids – as meteors are called before entering the atmosphere – are usually tiny, the size of rice, so it is very difficult to estimate how many there might be waiting to be captured by the pull of Earth’s gravity.
If the 2006 GY2 meteor storm is a no-show, there is still hope that the Tau Herculids on May 30-31 may be the first meteor storm since the Leonid storms of 2001-2002. But we can only wait and see.