Pretty Debris

If you’re waiting to see Halley’s Comet, it won’t be back until 2061. We pass through its debris every year. That debris falling shows up in the night sky as the eta Aquariid meteor shower.

Meteors are falling towards Earth all the time, but most are particles no bigger than dust and sand. But whatever hits the upper atmosphere at speeds up to 45 miles per second will flare and burn up. On any given night, the average person can see from 4 to 8 meteors per hour.

Meteor showers are different. They are caused by streams of comet and asteroid debris, which create many more flashes and streaks of light as Earth passes through the debris field

Tonight and into the early hours of May 6, around 3:00 am CDT, is the eta Aquariid meteor shower as Earth has its annual encounter with the debris from Halley’s comet.

The point in the night sky from which the meteor shower appears to originate (the radiant) is in the constellation Aquarius. The shower is named for the brightest star in that constellation, eta Aquarii.

The autumn counterpart of this debris encounter is October’s Orionid meteor shower.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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