Halley's Comet always puts on an impressive show whenever it flies by the Earth. However, even though we have to wait 75 years between visits, it always gives us a yearly reminder in the form of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaks this weekend.
The Eta Aquarids occur every year, for about a month between April 19th and May 20th, as Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind as Halley swings through the inner solar system. The tiny bits of ice, dust and rock that lie along its path hit our atmosphere and light up the night as they leave burning streaks across the sky.
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The shower gets its name because the meteors appears to radiate out from a point near the star Eta Aquarii, which is one of the four stars that form the 'water jar' of the constellation Aquarius. The best time to watch the shower is between around 3 a.m. local time and when the Sun comes up.
If you're in a good location, away from large cities and without any local light sources to spoil your night vision, you can see as many as one meteor streak by each minute during the peak. However, simply due to the angle that Halley swings by us at, anyone living in the northern hemisphere will probably see fewer, maybe one every five minutes or so. Even if you can't get far away from the city, as long as you can see a few stars in the sky, you still have a good chance of seeing at least a few meteors go by.
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Don't worry too much if you can't get out tomorrow morning to see this. Even though today is the shower's peak period, it will still be going on until around May 20th, so there's still plenty of time to check it out.
(Images and video courtesy: NASA)
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