Aquarid Meteor Shower.
Each spring as Earth passes through the debris trail from Halley’s Comet (1P/Halley), the cosmic bits burn up in our atmosphere and result in the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower. This year the peak will occur on the night of May 5 and into the morning of May 6, with meteor rates of about 40-60 meteors per hour under ideal conditions.
Because the shower’s radiant is located below the celestial equator, southern hemisphere observers are favored, but even northerners will be able to see at least a few flecks of Halley-dust disintegrating in the atmosphere when the shower peaks this weekend. The best time to look is during the hours before sunrise on Sunday, May 6th.
In recent nights, NASA’s all-sky meteor network has picked up a number of early eta Aquarid fireballs. This one was bright enough to shine through the glow of sunrise and clouds over Tullahoma, Tennessee, on April 29th:
According to analysts at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, this particular speck of comet dust hit the atmosphere traveling 62 km/s (139,000 mph) and disintegrated about 84 km (52 mi) above Earth’s surface.
Eta Aquarids are flakes of dust from Halley’s Comet, which last visited Earth in 1986. Although the comet is now far away, beyond the orbit of Uranus, it left behind a stream of dust. Earth passes through the stream twice a year in May and October. In May we have the eta Aquarid meteor shower, in October the Orionids. Both are caused by Halley’s Comet.
The meteor shower is named after a 4th-magnitude star in the constellation Aquarius. The star has nothing to do with the meteor shower except that, coincidentally, meteors appear to emerge from a point nearby. Eta Aquarii is 156 light years from Earth and 44 times more luminous than the Sun.
The constellation Aquarius does not rise very far above the horizon in the northern hemisphere, and that’s why northerners see relatively few meteors. But the ones they do see could be spectacular Earthgrazers.
Earthgrazers are meteors that skim horizontally through the upper atmosphere. They are slow and dramatic, streaking far across the sky.
The SuperMoon of May 5-6, 2012, with interfere with the visibility of the eta Aquarid peak.