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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South Florida’s clear skies make for great stargazing, what to see tonight

High pressure has hold of South Florida meaning cloudless skies perfect for stargazing tonight.

A low pressure system will approach the state tomorrow, which increases rain chances to 20 percent and may obstruct nighttime viewing.

But tonight, the waxing gibbous moon will rise over the eastern horizon at 4:49 p.m., and will later be joined by the bright star Spica.

Look for Spica south of the moon tonight before it creeps closer tomorrow and Saturday.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“Spica is a blue-white gem of a stare, but you might not discern its radiant color in the harsh moonlight, either,” notes Bruce McClure in his Earth and Sky column.

But once the moon retires from the night sky in a week or two, McClure says Spica’s color will be more noticeable.

The next big meteor shower is the Eta Aquariids, which are remnants of Halley’s Comet.

That shower will peak May 6 and I’ll have more in the WeatherPlus blog about when and where to look for those next week.

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.

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DON’T MISS: Clear skies this week offer view of celestial light show

A lengthy pause in celestial flamboyance ends this week under a shy waxing crescent moon and skies scrubbed clean by a cold front.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks late Saturday into early Sunday, but the approach of another weather system and a growing moon means watching earlier in the week may offer a better chance to see a line of fire scratch into the inky night.

January’s Quadrantids meteor shower was the last display of note, and while not the most robust of showers, the Lyrids can be seen throwing up to 20 meteors an hour in the best viewing conditions — dark skies with little light pollution.

A fireball meteor falling earthward, courtesy of NASA/George Varros.

“For the most part, it’s a modest event, but there have been a couple of exciting outbursts that have not been repeated since 1982 in North America,” said Diana Hannikainen, observing editor for Sky and Telescope magazine. “The good news is the moon is in the first quarter and its setting quite early, around midnight, so it won’t hamper observations.”

Check The Palm Beach Post live radar.

Pre-dawn hours offer the best viewing opportunities because the radiant point where the meteors appear to originate from is highest in the sky. The radiant for the Lyrids is near the bluish-colored star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

The Lyrids are space dust from the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which orbits the sun every 415 years. The comet was discovered in 1861, but the shower has been observed for more than 2,600 years.

The radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

Our planet annually crosses the path of the comet in late April, with bits shedding into Earth’s upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour, according to EarthSky.org.

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As with most meteor showers, the key to watching is patience.

“Lay back and get as much of the sky in your view as possible, and just wait,” said Dave Samuhel, an AccuWeather meteorologist and astronomy blogger. “The moon will set around midnight on the peak night, making viewing conditions much better during the overnight hours.”

AccuWeather gives South Florida only a fair chance of seeing the shower at its peak on Saturday night and early Sunday. An area of low pressure expected to form over the Rockies on Friday is forecast to push east, moving into South Florida late Sunday into Monday.

Forecast for West Palm Beach

The National Weather Service in Miami gives coastal Palm Beach County a 30 percent chance of showers Saturday night, with a 60 percent chance on Sunday.

“There may not be many meteors but the ones we see will be quite fast and persistent,” said Hannikainen, a former resident of Palm Beach County who suggests Singer Island as a place to view the Lyrids. “If you are outside, there are lots of other fun things to see in the sky.”

Looking west, bright Venus can be seen at twilight, while the planet Jupiter is rising in the south-southeast shortly after dark.

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Fireballs fly at peak of Taurids meteor shower this week

The Taurids meteor shower peaks this week, and while modest in number it can be bold in showmanship, known for slashing inky night skies with brilliant, long-lasting fireballs.

Most astronomy sites have the nights of Nov. 11 and 12 pegged for the peak of the Taurids, but because it tends to only fire-off a handful of meteors per hour, a precise pinnacle can be hard to narrow down.

Adding to the confusion is the Taurids are actually broken into two streams, the North Taurids and the South Taurids, which are known as the Taurid Complex.

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Collectively, the Taurids ramble along from late October through most of November.

Still, the online astronomy magazine Earth and Sky marks this weekend as the predicted peak of the North Taurids with the highest chances for a sighting around midnight,

“In some years they produce lots of fireballs,” said Deborah Byrd, editor-in-chief of Earth and Sky, noting that 2015 was a premier year for flashy Taurids. “Some experts say we get spectacular Taurid showers every seven years, but I’m not sure that’s ironclad.”

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A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, typically brighter than the planet Venus, which is the brightest planet in our solar system.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee in 2014.

All Taurids are debris from the comet Encke, which is named after German astronomer Johan Franz Encke, who discovered it in 1786.

It’s the size of the chunks of rock, ice and dust that Comet Encke leaves behind in its 3-year orbit around the sun that account for its fireball-throwing reputation.

Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Ala., said a Taurid meteor can range in size from a few inches to more than a foot long. Most meteors are caused by particles ranging in size from about that of a small pebble down to a grain of sand.

“They can be very big and the bigger the meteor the brighter it appears,” Cooke said about the Taurids. “They can penetrate deep into the atmosphere.”

Meteor terminology

Cooke said there have been no Taurid meteors found.

“But we’re keeping our eyes open,” he said. “If we can find a Taurid meteorite, we have a piece of the comet Encke in our hands.”

The Taurids and December’s Geminids meteor shower are the two showers with the best chance of having meteors survive their trip through Earth’s atmosphere.

While Byrd said this fall hasn’t been overwhelmed by Taurids so far, avid sky watchers have reported a few brilliant fireballs to the American Meteor Society.

“Even one is worth seeing,” Byrd said.

The moon this weekend will be about 43 percent full in its waning crescent phase, which means it won’t interfere too much with viewing the Taurids.

But the same may not be true for the weather. The National Weather Service in Miami has a 40 percent chance of rain in the forecast for both Saturday and Sunday.

If the sky clears, the Taurids can be seen in all parts of the sky. If you trace them backward they will appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus.

Cooke said the low rate of Taurids means casual observers don’t often see them.

“But even though the rates are low, they are rich in bright meteors,” Cooke said. “Every few years they can put on a spectacular show.”

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Thank Halley’s Comet for meteor shower that peaks this week

The legendary celestial hunter Orion lends his name to a modest but noteworthy meteor shower that peaks this week in predawn darkness.

While the Orionid shower runs from about Oct. 2 to Nov. 7 this year, the heavenly show will be most robust on Saturday morning, when the greatest number of meteors will slip into Earth’s atmosphere.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

With the moon near new, there will be no lunar interference this year to block the show. Earth and Sky Editor in Chief Deborah Byrd, recommends looking each morning this week for strays before the peak on Saturday.

“Do start watching in the days ahead of the peak, though,” she said in her blog. “You might catch an Orionid meteor or two before dawn over the coming days.”

During the peak, 10 to 20 Orionids per hour should be visible. The Orionids are significant because although they are named for the Greek hero Orion, they are actually rock and ice shed from what may be the only cosmic snowball of frozen gas, rock and ice to gain widespread notoriety — Halley’s Comet.

And they are viewable twice each year.

In May, the Earth again runs through the detritus of Halley’s Comet, creating the Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

“Over the ages, Halley’s Comet has shed bits and particles, and when we go through the streams, we get a meteor shower,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine during the 2016 Orionids shower. “This is the only well-recognized semi-major shower that we do twice a year.”

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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.

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.

The comet returns every 72 years and was last seen from Earth in 1986. It won’t come again until 2061.

Orion is the namesake for the Orionids because they appear to radiate from north of Betelgeuse, one of the constellation’s most well-known stars.

MacRobert cautioned that people shouldn’t expect a fireworks show out of the Orionids.

“So be very patient, lie back in a lawn chair and keep the moon out your vision,” he said.

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Tonight: Don’t miss the second best meteor shower of the year

Monster-slayer and mythical Greek hero Perseus lends his name to one of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year, which peaks Friday.

The annual Perseids shower will be most visible after 10 p.m. Friday and in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, but should be relatively active through the weekend.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

While the 2016 Perseids display was considered an “outburst” of grand proportion with 200 meteors per hour, this year will offer a lesser 150 per hour, said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Ala.

A normal year for the Perseids would have between 80 to 100 meteors each hour, although not all will be visible by the naked eye. Still, the Perseids is considered runner-up in number and brilliance only to the Geminid shower in December.

Related: Best places to watch the 2017 solar eclipse.

“There is still a little bit more dust in the Earth’s path this year that we will run into,” Cooke said. “The Perseids tend to be fairly rich in fireballs and tend to be bright.”

Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus, and a Perseid fireball can light up the ground like a brief spotlight during the best conditions.

While the Perseids shower radiates from the constellation Perseus, the meteors are actually debris from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun in a large cigar-shaped motion, with Earth passing through the comet rubble every year in mid-August.

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Perseid meteor shower, 2009. Photo from Wikipedia

The comet sheds debris that can range from the size of a pinhead to a half-dollar, Cooke said. They slam into Earth at 37 miles per second, said Bob Berman, astronomy editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

“This shower produces fast meteors,” Berman said. “That’s good because they are bright, but bad because if you are not paying close attention, you may miss them.”

Related: What Florida will see during historic Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

This year’s show is competing with the waning gibbous moon, which was full on Monday. That means about 86 percent of the moon will be illuminated, shining a light in the night sky that may upstage the Perseids.

Perseus was a mythological Greek hero who is known for beheading Medusa and saving Adromeda from the sea monster Cetus.

To avoid the moon’s intrusion, Berman suggests looking for meteors before the 10:45 p.m. moonrise. After midnight and before dawn there are typically more meteors, but because of the moon’s interference they may be harder to see.

“The real trick is keeping your eyes glued to the sky,” Berman said. “Don’t look down, don’t look at the person next to you, just keep watching the sky.”

Whether South Florida’s skies will cooperate is another thing. The National Weather Service in Miami is giving Palm Beach County a 20 percent chance of showers tonight through Saturday morning. Saturday evening’s rain chances are also 20 percent.

If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, Slooh.com is offering a live broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday.

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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.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

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

Lyrid meteor shower peaks this week, known for fireballs

A months-long pause in known meteor showers ends when the Lyrids begin to prick the night sky this week.

The Lyrids fired up Monday and will peak Saturday. Unfortunately, the peak hour will be at 1 p.m. for Florida, so the best time to view the peak of the Lyrids is Friday night or Saturday morning about an hour before dawn.

South Florida is forecast to have clear skies Friday and Saturday.

The American Meteor Society said the Lyrids will be most active during a waning crescent moon, which is better than a full moon as far as light pollution, but still could cause some interference.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“It would be best to face toward the northern half of the sky with the moon at your back,” AMS recommends.  “This will allow you to see the fainter Lyrids, which will be more numerous than the bright ones.”

Courtesy EarthSky.org

Vega, the 5th brightest star, is near the radiant point for the Lyrids, but you don’t have to find Vega to see a meteor.

The Lyrids is one of the oldest known meteor showers, with records going back about 2,700 years, EarthSky says. They are created by debris from the comet Thatcher, which takes about 415 years to orbit around the sun, according to Time and Date.com.

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While the Lyrids can be a modest show, several outbursts have occurred with an event in 1982 sending as many as 100 meteors per hour toward Earth.

EarthSky said it’s more likely that about 10 to 20 meteors per hour will be seen in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday.

A super moon lights up the night sky over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Also, the Lyrids are known for producing fireballs.

“Meteor showers are notorious for being fickle so you really never know for sure what’s in store unless you watch,” EarthSky notes.

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The Lyrid meteor shower has begun, here’s when and where to look

A months-long pause in known meteor showers ends when the Lyrids begin to prick the night sky this week.

The Lyrids fired up Monday and will peak Saturday. Unfortunately, the peak hour will be at 1 p.m. for Florida, so the best time to view the peak of the Lyrids is Saturday morning about an hour before dawn.

The American Meteor Society said the Lyrids will be most active during a waning crescent moon, which is better than a full moon as far as light pollution, but still could cause some interference.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“It would be best to face toward the northern half of the sky with the moon at your back,” AMS recommends.  “This will allow you to see the fainter Lyrids, which will be more numerous than the bright ones.”

The Lyrids appear to come from an area to right of the bright star Vega. The higher Vega is in the sky, the more Lyrids are likely to be seen.  Courtesy EarthSky.org

Vega, the 5th brightest star, is near the radiant point for the Lyrids, but you don’t have to find Vega to see a meteor.

The Lyrids is one of the oldest known meteor showers, with records going back about 2,700 years, EarthSky says. They are created by debris from the comet Thatcher, which takes about 415 years to orbit around the sun, according to Time and Date.com.

Download the Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app here.

While the Lyrids can be a modest show, several outbursts have occurred with an event in 1982 sending as many as 100 meteors per hour toward Earth.

EarthSky said it’s more likely that about 10 to 20 meteors per hour will be seen in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday.

A super moon lights up the night sky over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Also, the Lyrids are known for producing fireballs.

“Meteor showers are notorious for being fickle so you really never know for sure what’s in store unless you watch,” EarthSky notes.

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Multiple videos, images of brilliant Midwest meteor overnight

National Weather Service offices across the Midwest are Tweeting images and video of a brilliant meteor streaking across the sky overnight.

The American Meteor Society has received more than 200 reports about the fireball, which it said was seen by people in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, New York, Kentucky, Minnesota and Ontario.

A fireball is a very bright meteor, usually as bright or brighter than the magnitude of the planet Venus.

Mike Hankey, operations manager for the AMS, said last night’s meteor also qualifies as a bolide – a very bright and large meteor that explodes in the atmosphere.

“It was a really big bolide, a fragment from an asteroid,” Hankey said. “It showed up on Doppler weather radar over Lake Michigan. Very big return, sad we can’t go meteorite hunting.”

This map from the America Meteor Society shows where people reported seeing the meteor.
This map from the America Meteor Society shows where people reported seeing the meteor.

There are no known meteor showers occurring now, so it’s likely this was just a rogue piece of icy rock flung into our atmosphere. Hankey called it a “random, sporadic” fireball.

The next known shower is the Lyrid meteor shower in April.

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