Starwatch: shooting stars from the tail of Halley’s comet


This week, keep an eye open for the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. Shooting stars from this annual display can usually be seen between 19 April and 28 May. This year they are expected to peak in the pre-dawn sky of 5 May, but the morning before and after are worth a try too.

The chart shows the view looking east from London at 4am BST on 5 May. The radiant point will be low but this does not affect visibility as the meteors appear to streak away from the point rather than appear directly on it. Meteors from this and other showers have been reported even when the radiant is below the horizon.

From the southern hemisphere the radiant is higher in the sky but so is a bright waning moon. The light from the moon could hide some of the fainter meteors.

From a northern hemisphere perspective the Eta Aquarids may not be the most spectacular meteors of the year, but they are fun to see because they originate from the famous Halley’s comet. In short, these shooting stars are dust grains that once made up the tail of the comet that Edmund Halley proved returns to visibility every 76 years or so.


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