May 5, 2010

Halley’s Comet Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

Halley's Comet - which was last seen from Earth on February 9 ,1986 - will bring a show to earth tonight yet again.

The 2010 Eta Aquariid meteor shower contains flakes of dust from Halley's Comet.  It will produce about 30 visible meteors per hour overnight, with the best time to view being between 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. 

Although the comet is now far away, past the orbit of Uranus, it has left behind a stream of dust that turns into meteors once it hits Earth's atmosphere.  Halley's Comet also creates a shower in October called the Orionids. 

The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is named after a 4th-magnitude star in the constellation Aquarius.  The star has little to do with the shower other than meteors appear to emerge from a point nearby it into the earth's atmosphere.

In order to best experience the shower, watchers should lie down and look up towards the east.  Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, but their trails will point back toward Aquarius. 

Halley's comet stops by Earth about every 76 years when it is closest to the sun.  Chinese astronomers first saw the comet over 2,000 years ago.

The comet is named for Edmond Halley, an English astronomer who computed the orbit of the comet.

During the comet's last stop by Earth several organizations from around the globe put their members on alert for a possible increase in activity from the Eta Aquariids.  There were no unordinary reports during that time.


Image Caption: Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network. Credit: NASA