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Pieces of Halley’s comet will shower space in next few days

Halley's Comet. [Provided by NASA/TNS)

A modest twinkling of space dust left by the planet’s most celebrated comet will shine during the mornings of May 4, 5 and 6 with a South Florida forecast calling for clear skies through at least the peak of the show.

Halley’s comet, although not visible again until 2061, reminds us of its presence twice a year with the Eta Aquariid meteor shower in May and the Orionid meteor shower in October.

This year’s Eta Aquariid shower is expected to have the most meteors before dawn on May 5, but EarthSky writer Bruce McClure said it is worth taking a look on days preceding and after the peak.

“This shower has a rather broad maximum, so just as many meteors may be flying on the mornings before and after,” he said in his column.

And it might be smart to watch several days ahead of the peak because a waxing gibbous moon will try to snatch the limelight from this year’s shower as it moves toward full on May 7.

The shower favors the southern hemisphere because the point in the sky where the meteors appear to come from is in the constellation Aquarius, which is higher in the sky in the southern hemisphere.

“In the northern hemisphere, Eta Aquariid meteors can more often be seen as “earthgrazers,” according to NASA. “Earthgrazers are long meteors that appear to skim the surface of the Earth at the horizon.”

At its peak, up to 60 Eta Aquariid meteors may be seen per hour depending on location and viewing conditions. The meteors are known for moving swiftly — about 148,000 mph. Fast meteors can leave glowing trails that last for several seconds to even minutes.

A more subdued shower of 10 meteors per hour is more likely for South Florida.

Halley’s comet was discovered by Edmund Halley in 1705, but is believed to have been recognized for millennia. NASA says the comet is featured in the Bayeux tapestry, an embroidered cloth that depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The comet can be seen from Earth approximately every 76 years, but the particles that create the Eta Aquariid shower were shed hundreds of years ago.

“We stand by our hope that some meteors will be flying in the early morning hours on May 1, 2 and 3,” McClure wrote. “But, of course, you never know.”


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