Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks this weekend, and will be one for the ages
Dense debris left by Halley's Comet more than 3k years ago will produce more than 100 fireballs per hour
The annual Halley's Comet-linked Eta Aquariid meteor shower will peak tonight and tomorrow, and for those able to see it, this year's show promises to be fantastic.
A full Moon will partially wash out some of the fainter meteors, but NASA said that won't matter very much. Earth is currently passing through a particularly dense trail of debris left by Comet Halley more than 3,000 years ago, which will upgrade the annual shower to an "outburst," according to Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office at Huntsville, Alabama's Marshall Space FLight Center.
"A meteor shower is like a normal rain shower, with 50-60 meteors per hour," Cooke said. "An outburst is like a thunderstorm, with greater than normal meteor activity expected," he added. NASA said the Halley debris currently affecting Earth may produce from 120 to as many as 160 meteors per hour.
NASA said that some of the fireball "trains" left behind by the meteors, which enter the atmosphere at around 148,000 miles per hour (238,183kph), could last for minutes - all in all the perfect setup for some post-coronation dark sky partying.
This is the dawning of the Eta Aquariids
If you haven't sorted this out from its name yet, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower is named for both the constellation Aquarius, where the shower appears, and more particularly for the star Eta Aquarii, which lies in the upper central portion of the constellation.
Lucky for all of us, the equatorial position of Aquarius means the Eta Aquariid meteor shower is visible from both the northern and southern hemispheres, though according to NASA those south of the equator will get the better show.
If you're still keen to give it a watch, it'll even be visible as far north as the UK, though don't expect to see the full 120 meteors per hour that far from the equator - viewers in the northern hemisphere may only see 10-30 meteors per hour, said the American Meteor Society.
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Pack a chair if you plan to watch the outburst: The meteors will start to be visible around midnight, though the best viewing is likely to be between 3 or 4am and dawn. NASA recommends meteor watchers give themselves 30 minutes to sit in the dark without a light source in order to properly see the shooting stars. With the added presence of a bright full Moon you'll want to make the effort to avoid staring at our natural satellite, too.
If you aren't able to get out to the countryside to view the Eta Aquariid shower, you could always wait around for October's Orionids - they appear just north of the star Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation and are also caused by debris left by Halley's Comet. ®