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Eta Aquarids meteor shower set to put on a dazzling show

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will dazzle stargazers this weekend, reaching its peak from the evening of May 4 to the early hours of May 5. During this peak, spectators can expect to see up to 50 shooting stars per hour, according to astronomers.

The Eta Aquarids are known for their speed, traveling into Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 kilometers per second. They are also known for producing a high percentage of persistent trains – luminous trails that last for several seconds after the meteor itself has disappeared.

The Eta Aquarids 

The shower is named after its radiant point, which is located in the constellation Aquarius, near one of its brightest stars, Eta Aquarii. This is the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to emerge. 

The best viewing times are between midnight and dawn, and while the meteor shower is visible worldwide, it will be more pronounced in the Southern Hemisphere – where the Aquarius constellation is more prominently positioned in the sky.

Debris from Halley’s Comet 

“The Eta Aquarids are pieces of debris from Halley’s Comet, which is a well-known comet that is viewable from Earth approximately every 76 years,” NASA experts said. “Also known as 1P/Halley, this comet was last viewable from Earth in 1986 and won’t be visible again until the middle of 2061.”

Halley’s Comet has been observed for millennia, but the specific connection between the comet and the Eta Aquarid meteor shower was made in the late 19th century.

The meteor shower itself has likely been observed as long as people have been watching the skies, but scientific recognition of its origin connected to Halley’s Comet helped define its annual predictability.

Origin of Halley’s Comet

The comet is named after the English astronomer Edmond Halley, who first predicted its periodic return in 1705. Halley didn’t discover the comet, but he determined that reports of comets appearing in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were actually sightings of the same comet returning at regular intervals.

Using Newton’s recently formulated laws of motion, he predicted the comet would return in 1758. Halley died before this return, but the comet’s punctual appearance helped to solidify his prediction.

Halley’s Comet was the first comet to be recognized as periodic, changing the understanding of comets from atmospheric phenomena to celestial bodies in solar orbit.

Its appearances have provided valuable opportunities for scientific study, helping to advance knowledge about the nature of comets, their composition, and their interaction with solar wind and the solar system.

Eta Aquarid meteor shower visibility 

Active from April 15 to May 27, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower’s visibility may be influenced by lunar brightness. Fortunately, with the moon waning to a thin crescent, conditions this weekend are optimal for meteor viewing. 

For the best experience, the Farmer’s Almanac recommends looking southeast to see the meteors as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a brilliant display. If observers miss the peak on May 5, there will still be excellent opportunities to view the meteor shower until May 10.

Best way to view the Eta Aquarids 

“To view the Eta Aquarids, find an area well away from city or street lights,” NASA astronomers explained. “Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket, or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

Meteors, commonly referred to as shooting stars, originate from leftover comet particles and broken asteroid bits.

As comets orbit close to the sun, they emit dust that spreads into a dusty trail along their paths. Each year, the Earth passes through these debris trails, which causes the debris to collide with our atmosphere and disintegrate, creating vivid streaks of light in the sky. 

Despite their dramatic appearance, these celestial events pose no threat to Earth, as the particles almost always burn up before they can reach the surface.


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