Meteors from Halley's Comet - presented by Science@NASA
Mark your calendar. In the year 2061, Halley's Comet will return to the inner
solar system and put on a wonderful show for sky watchers around the world.
Astronomers say they can't wait. No kidding. Who can wait 50 years?! Many of us
will be long gone by the time Halley gets back.
Fortunately, there is another viewing opportunity right around the corner, on
May 6th, 2011. That's when Halley's comet will produce a lovely spring meteor
shower called the "eta Aquarids."
Although the comet itself is beyond the orbit of Neptune and won't return for
five decades, Halley's trail of dusty debris stretches all the way back to
On May 6th our planet will pass through a flowing stream of Halley-dust.
Disintegrating bits of Halley's Comet will shoot out of the constellation
Aquarius in the form of bright meteors, a nice show for anyone willing to wake
up early enough to see it.
The best time to look is between 3:30 a.m. and sunrise. That's when the
constellation Aquarius is well above the horizon. Observers in the southern
hemisphere are favored. They will count about 40 meteors per hour.
In the United States, people can expect to see about a quarter of that number.
For best results, get away from city lights. Dress warmly, spread a comfortable
blanket on the ground, and lie back so you have a good view of the entire sky.
eta Aquarids are fast, moving at about 148,000 miles per hour! They often trace
long paths across the sky, sometimes leaving glowing, smokey plumes in their
Earth passes through Halley's long tail every year around this time, but the
shower isn't always the same. Dust sputters from the comet in uneven bursts,
producing regions of high and low dust-density. Sometimes Earth passes through a
denser cloud of debris and this can produce an extra-lovely display. Because the
meteor rate can be variable and somewhat unpredictable, the International Meteor
Organization states that the "the shower would benefit from increased observer
In other words, wake up early and enjoy the show! It beats waiting until 2061.
For more information about the eta Aquarid meteor shower and other marvels of
the nights sky, please visit science.nasa.gov.