Dust from Halley’s comet hits Earth this weekend

A waning gibbous moon lights a darkened sky Sunday, distracting Earth from the modest twinkling of space dust left by the planet’s most celebrated comet.

While Halley’s comet was last seen in 1986 and won’t be visible again until 2061, it reminds the world of its presence twice a year with the Eta Aquariid meteor shower in May and Orionid meteor shower in October.

The Eta Aquariid shower peaks in the pre-dawn hours Sunday, but a blazing grain of Halley’s comet may be seen before and after the peak date.

Coastal South Florida is not considered an ideal viewing area for meteor showers, and this year the moon will add to the light pollution. The shower favors the southern hemisphere, but South Florida is close enough for a moderate show in ideal conditions.

Halley’s Comet, perhaps the most famous of all comets, is parent of both the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in May and October’s Orionid meteor shower. Image via NASA.

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At its peak, 20 to 60 Eta Aquariid meteors may be seen per hour. According to NASA, the meteors are known for moving swiftly – about 148,000 mph. Fast meteors can leave glowing trails that last for several seconds to even minutes.

Florida Atlantic University astronomer Eric Vandernoot said the comet Halley (pronounced hal-ee) is a household name because it can be seen without special equipment and makes an appearance about every 76 years.

“There really isn’t any other short-period comet that is visible to the naked eye,” Vandernoot said. “So when it comes, it gets superstar billing.”

Vandernoot said the 1910 passage of Halley’s comet offered stellar views, passing through the comet’s tail. It was more muted in 1986.

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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.

“The length of its orbit fits well within a human lifespan,” said Deborah Byrd, editor in chief of Earth and Sky. “So some people, for example, might see Halley’s comet twice in a lifetime. Parents or grandparents might tell their children about seeing it. Over time, it has become well known.”

The weekend’s forecast may also be a deterrent to seeing a particle of Halley’s comet streak across the sky.

Sunday’s forecast includes a 50 to 60 percent chance of rain.

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Halley’s Comet source of this week’s Eta Aquarids meteor shower

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

The Eta Aquarid light show spawned by Halley’s Comet can be seen through mid-May, but peaks in the predawn hours of Friday and Saturday, sending as many as 30 meteors per hour hurtling through our atmosphere.

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Halley’s Comet, perhaps the most famous of all comets, is parent of both the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in May and October’s Orionid meteor shower. Image via NASA.

Coastal South Florida is not considered an ideal viewing area for meteor showers, and this year the first quarter moon will add to the light pollution.

But the International Meteor Organization said you can avoid the waxing gibbous moon by looking on Wednesday and Thursday before the peak. The moon will be setting in the predawn hours as the radiant for the Eta Aquarids rises in the east so everyday closer to the peak will mean more lunar light pollution.

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.

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“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.

Source: EarthSky.org

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.

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.”

The radiant point of the Eta Aquarids is the constellation Aquarius