The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will light up the night sky through May 27, but skywatchers hoping to catch a glimpse of the remnants of Halley’s Comet have their best chance early Thursday morning.
Weather permitting, the annual display could generate as many as 50 shooting stars per hour during its predawn peak on Thursday, Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told Space.com.
Unlike during the Lyrid meteor shower earlier this month, which peaked just days following the full moon, the Eta Aquarids will be amplified by a waxing crescent moon that registers only about 15% full, meaning a better chance of seeing the show, according to the space and astronomy news site.
According to EarthSky, predictions of the peak vary, but the shower should be most visible in the predawn hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Names after the Aquarius constellation, the Eta Aquariids originate from the famed Halley’s comet, meaning the shooting stars are actually dust grains that once made up the tail of the comet that Edmund Halley proved returns to visibility roughly every 76 years.
While Halley’s comet is not due to pass through the inner solar system again until the summer of 2061, each time it passes the sun, it leaves behind a dusty trail that Space.com refers to as “cosmic litter,” and the Eta Aquarids are actually that debris. The phenomenon occurs a second time each year in October, producing the Orionids meteor shower.
Although the Eta Aquariids are visible in both the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, they are best viewed in the Southern Hemisphere where the meteors will rise the highest in the night sky, according to NASA.
Skywatchers in the United States, however, are advised to look for the constellation Aquarius, which is in the southern sky, as their starting point.
Cooke recommended lying flat on your back while looking straight up for best results. The position, he said, provides the largest view of the sky without causing unnecessary neck strain.
According to the American Meteor Society, the Eta Aquarids zip through the atmosphere at an estimated 41 miles per second.
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