Eta Aquariids meteor shower: Sky to light up with flashes tonight as Earth passes through leftovers of Halley's Comet

Famously fast meteors should be visible over the coming days

Andrew Griffin
Monday 04 May 2020 17:16
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Eta Aquariids meteor shower: Sky to light up with flashes as Earth passes through leftovers of Halley's comet

The Eta Aquariids are about to reach their peak, as the sky is lit up by leftovers from Halley's Comet.

The meteor shower runs from late April until May, but peaks around the first week of the month, meaning that they should be especially visible in the coming days. During their peak, as many as 30 of the meteors can be seen each hour.

One of the most remarkable things about the Eta Aquariids is their speed. They shoot into Earth's atmosphere at about 150,000mph, and can leave glowing lines across the sky as their glowing debris is left in their wake.

The show will be best viewed in the southern hemisphere, since the constellation from which they emerge is higher up in the sky and therefore any meteors are more easily spotted. In the northern hemisphere, they will often seem to skim across the horizon, giving them the name "Earthgrazers".

As ever, the key to seeing any meteor shower is to go somewhere that is relatively dark so that light pollution will not get in the way of the view. That may be complicated by coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing, and any trips should only be made if they are recommended.

To get a view, look up into the sky and try to hold your gaze there. Over time – after about 30 minutes or so – your eyes should be able to see better in the dark and any meteors will come into view.

Meteor showers come when the Earth moves into the debris from comets that have moved around our Solar System. As those leftovers collide with the Earth's atmopshere, they break up create blazing lights in the sky.

Each year, the Earth moves regularly through those chunks of debris. That means that the meteor showers are predictable and come at the same time each year.

The debris that create the Eta Aquariids originally came from Halley's Comet. When it makes its regular trips into the solar system – each orbit takes around 76 years – it leaves behind new debris, and the leftovers from the same comet also lead to the Orionids in October.

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