Halley’s Aquarids

Halley’s Comet hasn’t visited Earth since 1986 but her dust arrives like clockwork every year. Peaking May 5-6, the eta Aquarid meteor shower promises diligent sky-watchers in both hemispheres a reliable show. Southern hemispheres win the Aquarid toss with roughly double the pleasure – 60 vs. 30 per hour. Halley herself returns in July of 2061.

The radiant point is constellation Aquarius, hence the name Aquarid. Aquarius doesn’t rise much above the horizon in northern hemisphere skies during May, the reason for fewer visible bursts of light. Not to be discouraged, low horizon meteors often appear as “Earth-grazers” – slow, horizontal, lingering manifestations of cosmic ass kickery.

I can’t promise fireworks, but if you happen to rise before dawn – take a moment to gaze at the sky.


Hail Aquarids


For the next few days Earth’s orbit passes through debris from Halley’s comet – an annual event known as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

Animation Credit: NASA MSFC

Named for constellation Aquarius and the star Eta – the focal point Aquarids radiate from. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live, look towards the eastern horizon a few hours before dawn on May 5 and 6th. Dependable,  with a respectable average of 60 meteors an hour, Aquarids are one of the easiest showers to view.

The reason pre-dawn star gazing delivers results is that the radiant (Aquarius) is highest in the sky an hour or two before twilight. The radiant isn’t as high in the northern hemisphere as southern hemisphere skies. Southern hemisphere sky gazers get more sky streakers an hour, northern hemisphere enthusiasts get “earthgrazers” – extremely flashy slow moving show offs moving horizontally across the upper atmosphere as the radiant rises – look for them around 2 – 2:30 am.

Meteors are nothing more than tiny particles, no larger than grains of sand, entering our atmosphere from 7 – 45 miles per second depending on their entry in relation to our orbit.  Meteor showers simply cosmic dust trails left by passing comets – nothing substantial enough to survive our atmosphere – absolutely no chance of impact.

A link to Earthsky’s 2014 meteor guide….