Although Halley’s Comet is only visible from Earth every 74-79 years – next scheduled to appear mid-2061 – this week, you’ll be able to see some of its shooting stars.
The UK will enjoy a stunning celestial display, as debris from the famous comet will plunge into our atmosphere, lighting up the sky.
In fact, this event – known as the Eta Aquarids – happens every year when Earth passes through a stream of ice and dust left behind in the trail of Halley’s Comet.
The meteor shower is always visible in May and is best known for its appearance in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which was made in the 11th century.
A second meteor shower, known as the Orionids, is also visible every October.
As particles the size of grains fly off from the comet, they burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in the meteor showers which attract stargazers from around the world as they want to witness the stunning shooting stars.
This week’s meteor shower got its name as the stars appear to emerge from the constellation of Aquarius.
With this constellation being located in the southern hemisphere, it does make some of the shooting stars hard to spot as Dhara Patel, an astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich, explains to the Mirror:
At this time of the year, much of Aquarius remains below the horizon until the predawn hours.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this meteor shower is not favourably placed.
The meteoroids, officially named 1P/Halley, fly into the Earth’s atmosphere at an approximate, stunning speed of 150,000 miles per hour.
Raining down on Earth, as they burn up, they produce streaks of light which are the shooting stars we see in the sky.
As Patel explains, the best time to see these is this morning, May 7:
Typically, after midnight would be a good time to look for meteors but for the Eta Aquarids you’ll need to wait until the early hours – around 3am-4am.
The waning gibbous moon is also close by, meaning there is likely to be interference from moonlight.
Don’t be worried if you missed this though, the shower will be visible until the end of the month – although those in the southern hemisphere will have the best view of the meteors.
From the UK, sky watchers should be able to spot up to 30 per hour.
Who says you can't catch meteors in moonlight? Check out this beautiful shot of one of this weekend's Eta Aquariid meteors from Eliot Herman in Tucson.
— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) May 6, 2018
If you fancy trying to spot them, head to a dark location in the countryside just before dawn.
Patel advised getting away from all artificial lights:
It’s best to head away from the city to a rural location where there are few buildings and trees to obscure your view of the south-eastern horizon in particular.
Heading to higher altitudes may also make viewings easier. Remember, the best tool for the job is your eyes as they give you the widest field of view.
It will be challenging to spot meteors from this shower but some do leave persistent trains so you could still spot a few!
If you do try your hand at sky watching, I wish you all the best!
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