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Tonight: The Remnants of Halley’s Comet Brings Us The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

Eta Aquarids

The second meteor shower of the year will be in the form of the Eta Aquarids, an event that springs from the result of the passing of Halley’s Comet.  The Eta Aquarids is an annual event that runs from around April 19th through May 28th.  This year, the peak viewing time will be May 4 through Tuesday night, May 5th.

Halley’s Comet is visible from Earth once every 75 years; however, the tail of the comet leaves behind a stream of debris which results in a meteor shower annually.  What happens is that the Earth passes through the old orbit of Halley’s Comet each year, thus passing through the remnants left behind.  Meteor showers are the result of the dusty and rock debris left behind by comets as they fly through our solar system.  As the Earth passes through this trail, its gravitational pull attracts this debris, which then enters into our atmosphere, burns up, and is then seen as a falling star or meteor.

This trail of comet chunks is created when the comet travels through our solar system and parts of it are blown off by wind from the sun.  When these particles and bits enter our atmosphere they’re traveling at tens-of-thousands of miles per hour.  They move so fast that air literally can not move out of it’s way fast enough.  So the meteors–or shooting stars as we sometimes call them–heats up the air around them and ends up generating streaks of bright burning light as it streaks across our sky.  In the case of the Eta Aquarids, the particles left behind by Halley’s Comet were created hundreds of years ago.

Each meteor shower is named after the constellation it appears to originate.  The constellation that Eta Aquarids appears to come from is Aquarius, near the brightest star in the constellation, Eta Aquarii. Even though most of the meteors can be seen originating from Aquarius, sometimes the Eta Aquarids will produce “earthgrazers,” or, long lasting meteors that streak horizontally across the sky.

Best viewing for the Eta Aquarids will be for people in the southern hemisphere.  Viewing in the northern hemisphere is possible with an increased chance of spotting earthgrazers.

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