This week, night sky watchers will be treated to a rare treat: fragments from Halley's Comet's tail will ignite a meteor shower that will thrill the naked eye with flashes of shooting stars.
According to AccuWeather, the 2021 Eta Aquarid meteor shower will occur on the evening of Tuesday, May 4, through the early morning of Wednesday, May 5.
Eta Aquarid Meteors
Eta Aquarid meteors are noted for their distance, according to NASA. Quick meteors, which travel at around 148,000 mph through the Earth's atmosphere, will leave glowing "trains" that last for several seconds to minutes. In the aftermath of the comet, these trains are truly incandescent pieces of debris. During their height, 30 Eta Aquarid meteors can be seen every hour.
Debris of Halley's Comet
Halley's comet is the source of the space debris that interacts with the Earth's atmosphere to produce the Eta Aquarids. According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Halley's nucleus loses a sheet of ice and rock into space each time it returns to the inner solar system. If the dust grains collide with Earth's atmosphere, they become the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October
The shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, with up to 40 meteors per hour expected at its height. You should hope to see between 10 and 30 meteors per hour in the Northern Hemisphere.
Though the comet's debris will brighten the night sky this week, don't hope to see Halley's Comet for some time. It takes Halley some 76 years to complete one orbit around the Earth. Halley was last observed by casual observers in 1986, and it won't return to the inner solar system until 2061.
The Eta Aquarids should put on a nice show around Earth, even though the comet won't be visible for another 40 years. The best time to see the most meteors is before sunrise on Wednesday, May 5; however, the meteor shower will start on May 4 and last until May 6. The best time to observe shooting stars is in the pre-dawn hours in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres; the Southern Hemisphere has a higher chance of observing them than the Northern Hemisphere.
Perfect Viewing Location
The best viewing location is far away from light emission sources: city and street lights will obscure faint streaks that would otherwise be apparent in a calm, clear night. Observers should lie flat on their backs with their feet facing east, according to astronomers. Your eyes should adjust to the low light levels when you gaze up at the bright, dark sky, and you should be able to see the meteors streak through the night sky. For instance, you would be in a cloud-free environment in comparison to living in a light-polluted environment. (Check your local forecast to see if the sky will be cloud-free in your viewing area.)
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