It’s not too late to see meteors from Halley’s Comet

Galactic detritus from one of mankind’s most recognized comets is falling in fireballs to Earth and especially visible in the lower latitudes of South Florida for the next few days.

The Eta Aquarid light show spawned by Halley’s Comet can be seen in the pre-dawn hours through Tuesday, sending as many as 30 meteors per hour hurtling through our atmosphere.

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While coastal South Florida is not considered an ideal viewing area for meteor showers because of light pollution, it has three things going for it with this particular cosmic pageant – location, a nearly moonless night and clear skies.

A high pressure system that moved in after Wednesday’s passing cold front is promising dry, cool, sunny weather through at least Sunday. That means today may struggle to reach 80 degrees and overnight lows will dip into the 60s on the coast and 50s inland.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Miami said this may be the last gasp of spring before summer-like temperatures and humidity descend.

West Palm Beach already broke a heat record, hitting 93 degrees Tuesday. The normal high for this time of year is 84 degrees with a normal low of 70.

“Summertime is practically knocking on our door,” said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the NWS in Miami. “These strong cold fronts won’t make it all the way to South Florida, or if they do, they will have lost most of their energy.”

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Aquarius,_Piscis_Australis_&_Ballon_Aerostatique

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower favors the southern hemisphere, but Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine, said South Florida is close enough for a good show.

“You get a better view than most of the rest of the U.S. because the meteors are coming from the southern part of the sky and the farther south you are around the curve of the Earth the more directly you are facing them as they come in,” MacRobert said.

According to NASA, the Eta Aquarids are known for moving swiftly – about 148,000 mph. But fast meteors can leaving glowing trails that last for several seconds to even minutes.

Halley’s Comet was discovered by Edmund Halley in 1705, but is believed to have been recognized for millennia. NASA says the comet is featured in the Bayeux tapestry – an embroidered cloth that depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Here's the Eta Aquarid's radiant as seen from latitude 30° north (Houston, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai) 90 minutes before sunrise. Farther north, the radiant is even lower when the sky starts to get light. But Eta Aquariids are occasionally seen as far north as New York State. Sky & Telescope diagram - See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/eta-aquariid-meteor-shower-reaches-its-peak/#sthash.yfe10Rff.dpuf

Here’s the Eta Aquarid’s radiant as seen from latitude 30° north (Houston, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai) 90 minutes before sunrise. Farther north, the radiant is even lower when the sky starts to get light. But Eta Aquariids are occasionally seen as far north as New York State. Sky & Telescope diagram 

The comet was last seen on Earth in 1986 and won’t come again until 2061.

But, each year, the planet intersects with the cast off stream of dirt, ice and sand from the comet, bringing the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October.

MacRobert said the meteorites should be visible in all parts of the sky, but they radiate from the constellation Aquarius, the water bearer.

“Be patient, and try to find a dark sky,” MacRobert said. “The best hours are before the first light of dawn.”

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