Tonight, as Halley’s Comet speeds through our solar system, it leaves a trail that stays around long after it’s gone. Earth’s orbit runs through the dust and debris left behind which crashes into Earth’s atmosphere as a meteor shower.
Twice a year, Earth plows through the debris of this famous comet which we don’t get to see but every 76 years.
In 2021, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower lasts from April 19 through May 28, with the peak—tonight. NASA pinpoints it to be a stunning display in the night sky.
This time around is considered a relatively good night to hunt for Eta Aquarid meteors, with Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office indicating we could see as many as 40 meteors per hour under dark skies.
While it pales in comparison to what is expected from the Perseids and the Geminids showers, we will get to view the Eta Aquarids in the warmer spring weather.
Eta Aquarid meteors tend to be faint and fast, which makes finding dark skies crucially important if we want to see as many meteors as possible. It’s important to leave the far-reaching light pollution of cities to really get a good view. As mentioned, these meteors, which will be spectacularly burning up in our eastern sky, are remnants from Halley’s Comet or Comet 1P Halley. Many of us actually saw the comet back in 1986, making it a once-in-a-lifetime event. It won’t be back until July 2061.
Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office told CleverJourneys that the meteors will be competing with “a last-quarter moon. So, you want to start observing around 2 am and go to dawn,”
“The Eta Aquarids are very faint,” Cooke explained. “They require a good dark sky. They’re kind of an out in the boondocks country meteor shower.”
Pick a location with a clear view along the horizon. Try to avoid trees and buildings that block some of the sky from view, because this shower has a radiant low in the sky.
Eta Aquarid can be spotted inside the constellation Aquarius in the eastern sky. Though, we don’t want to stare directly at the radiant, it’s wise to take in as much of the sky as possible. The meteors are moving away from the radiant, and the more sky we can see, the more meteors we’ll spot. For this reason, we should also avoid using binoculars.