Twice every year Earth collides with a ring of debris left behind by Halley’s comet, creating a pair of sibling meteor showers that can dazzle in the night sky.
This entire week you can catch the first of the two displays, called the Eta Aquarids. It began on April 20, and will peak on May 6th before ending around May 29, according to EarthSky.
The Eta Aquarids is one of the fastest meteor showers. Its specks pierce the sky at about 148,000 miles per hour.
“If you blink, you’re not going to see them. They move that fast,” said Bill Cooke, an astronomer with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. The meteors, which are often no bigger than a grain of sand, can pack a punch equivalent to a .357-caliber bullet, according to Dr. Cooke. “That’s why they leave these brilliant streaks in the atmosphere — they have a lot of energy.”
The show favors the Southern Hemisphere over the Northern Hemisphere. Stargazers south of the Equator will see between 20 and 30 meteors per hour during the peak, while those to the north will catch about half as many. But even if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the Eta Aquarids should provide a better performance than last month’s Lyrid meteor shower, which was washed-out by the moon.
Your next chance to witness remnants from Halley’s comet rain on Earth will be in October during the Orionid shower. Since the celestial celebrity pays us a visit only about every 76 years, Dr. Cooke suggested taking advantage of the annual showers, especially if you don’t want to wait until 2061.
“The Eta Aquarids and Orionid showers provide an opportunity to at least see part of Halley’s comet burning up,” Dr. Cooke said.