The best time to observe the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is before dawn on May 5th and 6th (Creators.com)
Do you remember seeing Halley's comet – the most famous of all celestial nomads – when it intertwined in our solar system in 1986? If you've seen it, and even if you haven't, you'll have to wait until July 2061 to see it when it comes back.
I personally look forward to his return. OK, I'm going to be 109 years old in the summer, and I'll be pretty excited to see the sun rise, but that's my plan.
If I don't, I have a backup strategy. And you can also if you are willing to get up early and head out to a dark country place next week.
On the morning of May 5 and 6, fragments of this most famous comet in our astronomy will evoke the atmosphere of our planet, which astronomers call the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.
Meteors or stellar bullets are spots of interplanetary dust barely larger than the grain of sand that meets Earth at tens of miles per second. As one of these slams into our air, it ignites and causes adjacent atmospheric gases to shine. It's the fiery demise we see as a meteor.
It is known that those of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower are pieces that fell from Comet Halley during one of the many trips around our planet. Every year around this time, these fragments collide with our atmosphere almost head-on at speeds of about 150,000 mph, and the brighter ones can often show a yellowish color.
Although historical records suggest that sky observers saw Eta Aquarids from about 74 ° C, the shower was not officially "discovered" until the British sailor Lt.
These meteors appear all over the sky, but you can see if a person is part of the Eta Aquarid swarm by watching his way back. If it appears to radiate from the direction of Aquarius, low on the east-southeast sky before dawn, it is almost certainly associated with this swarm. If it appears to arise elsewhere, astronomers call a sporadic or random meteor.
To see the heavenly show, head out of the city lights where the sky is dark and bright. Under ideal conditions, astronomers can see up to 50 or 60 meteors or falling stars every hour coming from the eastern sky. The best tracking times will be between midnight and dawn. The moon will lie near its new phase at that time, so its light will not release the sky this year.
The best part is that all you need to see a shower are your eyes, a lawn chair or a sleeping bag and some warm clothes. No telescopes or binoculars are needed to capture the shower – they would produce too narrow a field of view to see the entire sky.
You may want to have a telescope at hand to look at some permanent smoke trails left by some meteors.
It's true it's not a big comet in itself, but it can still be a pretty dramatic show. Besides, it beats waiting for 42 years!
– Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working under the clear dark sky of Anza-Borrego Desert in the backcountry of San Diego County. Contact him [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana. Expressed opinions are his own.