Bits of Halley’s Comet lights up the Eta Aquarids meteor shower

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Eta Aquarid meteor shower seen from Chile.

Yuri Beletsky / Spaceweather.com

If you missed the Lyrid meteor shower in April, there is another opportunity to catch “shooting stars” this week as the remains of a famous comet burn in the night sky.

The Eta Aquarids are expected to peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 5 and 6.

Each year around this time, Earth drifts through a stream of debris left by Halley’s comet. Pieces of dust, rock and other debris heat up as they collide with our atmosphere, creating fleeting paths and occasional fireballs that can be seen with the naked eye.

According to NASA, the meteors seem to come from the Aquarius constellation and more precisely from the region of the constellation near one of its brightest stars, Eta Aquarii, this is how the shower takes its name.

Unfortunately, this year, the shower has a little competition. It falls just before the last super moon of 2020.

“The intense reflections of one of the largest full moons of the year will reduce the number of meteors visible from the usual 40 hours to 10 or 15 hours at most,” writes astronomer Tony Phillips.

But if you’re looking for a reason to go out, it’s still not a bad result for a meteor shower.

Phillips says the best time to spot Eta Aquarids is to get up early, about an hour before sunrise when Aquarius is high in the eastern sky.
“Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning are both good. Halley’s debris spray is large enough to distribute the shower over two days. “

Generally speaking, the further south you are, the better your view of this shower will be. Good news, Australia!

To see the show, plan to get as close as possible around four or five in the morning. Find a place away from light pollution with a clear view of the sky. Lie down, let your eyes adjust to the darkness and relax. If you can orient yourself to look at Aquarius, that’s fine, but if you have a sufficiently wide view of the sky, you should be able to catch meteors without locating the constellation.

Enjoy the fire in the sky, preferably at least six feet from any other sky observer.

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