The Halley's Comet Meteor Shower Is Set to Peak This Weekend - Here's How to Watch

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It is time for the major moment on the sky watching calendar until this August's mind-bending total solar eclipse - the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.


This weekend, Earth passes through the thickest wreckage left by Halley's Comet, and these glowing comet leftovers are expected to light up the night sky at rates of up to 40 per hour.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is active each year between April 19 and May 28, with its peak centered on May 6.

The greatest number of meteors probable to fly before dawn on Saturday May 6, when Australians and others in the Southern Hemisphere will be treated with around 20 to 40 meteor per hour.

Those in mid-northern latitudes can expect about 10 to 15 meteor per hour but you could get lucky and see some more.

How to see it:

The shower is named after the faint Eta Aquarii star in the Aquarius Constellation, which actions as its radiant point, the area of the night sky that the meteors appear to originate from.

To find the best spot to scour the night sky, Bruce McClure fromEarthSky.org suggests finding the Aquarius Constellation, and pinpointing its Y-shaped 'Water Jar', which is made up of 4 stars, including Eta Aquarii.

The water jar is in the northern part for those in the Northern Hemisphere and the southern part of the constellation for those in the Southern Hemisphere.

"If you can find the Water Jar in the constellation Aquarius, you've as good as located the radiant point for the Eta Aquarid meteors," saysMcClure.


Southern Hemisphere view. Credit: Museums Victoria/Stellarium

Northern Hemisphere view. Credit: NASA

Of course, even if you try to find the Eta Aquarid radiant - you'll need a really dark sky to make it out - that does not mean you won't catch meteors.

They might originate in that part of the sky, but they will fly every which way, which means it really does not matter where you are looking, as long as you were somewhere away from the lights of the city.

In fact, the further the meteors are from the radiant, the longer theirtails will be.

And just remember it takes fifteen minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, so plan your timings carefully!

When to see it:

Those in the Southern Hemisphere might not get to experience the imminent total solar eclipse like our American friends, but at least we get the best variety of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

For the reactionaries out there, 4 am Saturday morning local time is your absolute best play for viewing of the shower, after the Moon has set. But any time from 1 am forwards should net you a good quantity of shooting stars.

The best part is that while the Eta Aquarid meteor shower does not produce as many meteors as the Geminid or Perseid showers, these ones are predominantly easy to spot and bright also.

"Since they move very quickly about 148,000 miles/hours they leave very long tails in the sky," Rae Paoletta explains for Gizmodo.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, Miami sky watchers will get a better show than San Francisco and New York, but luckily you should be able to see some no matter where you are.

Your best play it to head out in the early hours of Saturday morning, between 3 and 4 am local time.

The reason the Northern Hemisphere does not get to see as many meteors as the Southern Hemisphere is because the radiant is really cut off in the night sky by the horizon.

But this comes with a pretty cool side effect  earth grazers.

"While a low radiant means fewer meteors, there is an upside. You have a fair chance of seeing an earth grazer, a meteor that skims tangent to the upper atmosphere, flaring for many seconds before either burning up or skipping back off into space," said by Bob King at Universe Today.

So get your picnic blankets and deck chairs ready, and make sure you can sleep in on Sunday morning because this is going to be a late one.


Good luck out there!
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