Skywatchers will want to be looking to the heavens this week to see debris from the tail of Halley’s Comet light up the night sky. The meteor shower resulting from the debris is called the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Meteors in the shower known for their high velocity. They travel at about 148,000 mph when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
The high velocity of the meteors means they often leave going “trains,” which can last for several seconds to minutes behind them in the atmosphere. The trains are made from incandescent pieces of debris left behind in the wake of the meteor. Eta Aquarid typically produces around 30 meteors per hour at its peak.
Interestingly, the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere each year, while the comet itself very rarely makes an appearance in the sky of Earth. The debris left behind happens because each time the comet returns to the inner solar system, the nucleus sheds a layer of ice and rock into space.
That debris that’s shed becomes the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in May and the Orionids in October. The next time Halley’s comet will pass to the inner solar system will happen in 2061. The last time it came through the inner solar system was in 1986. The best viewing for the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will happen before dawn Wednesday, May 5.
The meteor shower kicks off on May 4 and could linger until May 6. In both the northern and southern hemispheres, the best time to view the meteor shower happens in predawn hours. The southern hemisphere has better odds of seeing the meteors than the northern hemisphere. As with any sky viewing, the best place to view will be in an area without light pollution.