Changing Planet

Look Up for Halley’s Comet Shower this Weekend

Halley's comet glides across the starry skies back  in March 1986. Credit: NASA

Halley’s comet glides across the starry skies back in March 1986, shedding particles that will eventually approach Earth as Eta Aquarid meteors. Credit: NASA

 

Halley’s Comet won’t swing by Earth for another  48 years, but you won’t have to wait that long to watch bits of the iconic comet zip across our skies. That’s because this weekend Earth smashes into a stream of material, known as the Eta Aquarid meteors,  shed from the speedy iceberg in years past. (Related: Ancient Greeks Made First Halley’s Comet Sighting?)

Coming through the inner solar system every 76 years, Halley melts a bit from the heat of the sun and sheds some pounds as gas, dust, and rocks break off.  All this material then gets deposited in clouds of debris which follow the same orbit as the comet.

The result of this cosmic diet the comet undergoes is an annual shooting-star show, which this year is set to peak in the predawn hours of May 5, with rates of 10 to 50 meteors an hour – depending on local sky conditions.  Our planet plows through the densest part of Halley’s debris cloud Saturday night into Monday morning.

While not as spectacular as its August cousin, the Perseids, the cool factor for sky-watchers is that all those modest shooting stars are bits of debris from Halley’s Comet. One other shower – the Orionids in October – shares the same royal pedigree. (Related: See ‘Postcards’ from Halley’s Comet)

Eta Quarids peak in the early morning hours of Monday radiating out from it's nakesake constellation. Credit: Courtesy of Starry Night Software/Andrew Fazekas
Eta Aquarids peak in the early morning hours of Monday radiating out from it’s namesake constellation. Credit: Courtesy of Starry Night Software/Andrew Fazekas

 

No telescopes or binoculars required to enjoy the show – just unaided eyes so that you can soak in as much of the overhead skies. The meteors will appear to radiate out from the constellation Aquarius – rising in the southeast around 3 am local time. Aquarids are known to be fast and bright, and because the waning crescent moon rises only around morning twilight,  skywatchers stuck in light polluted suburbs should be able to catch at least a dozen per hour early Sunday morning. Best views will be from the Southern Hemisphere with meteor counts decreasing as you head into the Northern Hemisphere – by mid northern latitudes Aquarids tend to be falling at a trickle.

Halley’s last paid a visit back in 1986 and won’t return until 2061, but with  some clear skies and patience, we can still marvel at its tiny but flashy, cosmic offspring this weekend.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Fall of a Thousand Suns

    Check out drawings and etchings of the Leonids in 1833. They are shocking. It’s not hard to understand how people could have viewed them as a religious sign.

    For more on comets take a look at http://www.fallofathousandsuns.com/comets.html

  • shawn Thomas

    I wonder what his local time is? Nice reporting DA

  • grisselle negron

    this morning around 3:20 or so. i was praying in my bathroom looking through my window and i saw something i have never seen. it was scary at the moment but i keep looking. it was long and like golden of color and then it desappeared.

  • Vasco Ferreira

    The time you mention, 4 AM, is from where? I’m in Greenwich time frame and would like to know what time will the show be on here. Thanks

  • Kaushal Sindwani

    At what time (Indian time) will i be able to see this wonder?? Is it even visible from Faridabad/Delhi??
    Thanks 🙂

  • Adrenaline

    Hi, can anyone tell me, what time (GMT+2) will this event be visible in Lithuania?

  • Joseph Caraway

    Why is local time so difficult to understand? 3 am is 3 am regardless of which time zone you are in.

  • Kathie Brobeck

    without timings you’re not very useful! — come on is 3 am GMT or what?

  • Daniel Lindsäth

    “3 am local time” means the local time wherever you are, as the local time determines which direction the sky is pointing at where you are.

  • Lexi Pizzano

    Is there any chance of seeing anything from Long Island, New York? A few other articles said not to even bother if you’re in New York. Also, where can I go to see it? Any state parks open for the event?

  • Scott Meese

    Dad – Thought you might like to know about this! H

  • Sheila A.

    By the time I read, I had already miss the date/time since Malaysia is so many hours ahead of the States. I wish they’d these type of articles a couple of days before it happens for people like us.

  • kesia henry

    I think that is one of the most beatific thing I’ve seen 🙂

  • Brenda Villamor Miranda

    Please tell us what is the manila time equivalent to your May 6, 4am?

    Thank you very much,

    Brendz

  • colin

    star

  • ben

    can i see it in Israel, and if so at what time

  • craig steiger

    couldn’t we arrange for the meteor shower to appear at a more reasonable hour?

  • liciayurika

    I woke up at 4am and nothing happen 🙁

  • Kyle Lohnes

    Can we see the shower from nova scotia? If so what time?

  • rohit

    vast very vast

  • Sarah Arnold

    Here in Hattiesburg you don’t see a lot of stars.

  • Dhairya

    Can the meteor be seen in faridabad

  • naledi

    I was named after the halley’s comet I was born on the 24 February 1986 and I stayed without a name until march that year that’s when my father named me after the halley’s comet coz he saw it that’s why my name is Naledi meaning (star)

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media