It’s that time of the year again when leftover pieces from Halley’s Comet can be seen in the night sky, also known as a meteor shower called Eta Aquarids, which usually occurs during the first week of May each year. The meteor shower will be seen at 1:30 a.m. on May 5 and May 6.
The Eta Aquarids meteor shower will be best seen under a moonless sky at night in the countryside away from light pollution but city-dwellers can still catch a glimpse of this annual event. Viewers can expect up to 30 meteors an hour, which would start around 10 p.m., passing through the northeast skies.
During peak activity, watchers 26 degrees north latitude can see about 12 Eta Aquarid meteors if the weather conditions permit. These meteors travel at speeds of up to 148,000 miles per hour or 238 kilometres per hour. Fast meteors can be seen leaving bright trains or pieces of debris that can last for a few seconds or minutes.
Eta Aquarids are actually debris from Halley’s comet, which was last seen in 1986. The famous short-period comet is only visible every 75 years and scientists say it won’t return until 2062.
Scientists sent a spacecraft for the first time in 1986 to observe the comet up close. Luckily, Halley’s comet approached the opposite side of the sun from the Earth, which made it look like a faint object about 39 million miles or 62.7 kilometres away from Earth.
Halley’s comet is named after Edmond Halley, an English astronomer who observed the comet back in 1531, 1607 and 1682. Initially, these were thought as three different comets passing the Earth during these dates but Halley concluded that these three were actually just one comet that keeps coming back. The English astronomer correctly predicted that the comet would be visible again in 1758.
Eta Aquarids are not the only remnants of Halley’s Comet every year. The Orionid meteor shower is also produced by the comet’s fragments, which usually happens in October every year.