Although Halley’s Comet only appears every 76 years, it leaves a stack of debris in its wake. And that debris flakes off regularly. Even though the comet only passes us once in a lifetime or so, we cross its orbit a couple of times a year and, if conditions are good, we can see all those pieces lighting up the sky.
The two meteor showers are called the Eta Aquariid and Orionid and they are seen in late April/Early May and in October each year, as we pass though the comet’s orbital wake.
The small fragments are called meteoroids when in outer space and meteors when they hit Earth’s atmosphere where they usually vaporise.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower will be at its brightest early next week although the Southern Hemisphere has been in position to see it since about the 20th of April. But the best time will be during the early morning on Sunday and Monday.
The southern hemisphere will enjoy the best visibility of the interstellar lightshow this time around.
Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told reporters “All you need is a clear, dark sky”.
Weather permitting you can expect to see 30 to 60 meteors in our skies per hour during the peak. And you can do that with the naked eye – no need for telescopes or any fancy equipment.
The Eta Aquariid will originate from the constellation Aquarius. But if you’re not an experienced stargazer, use a compass or the app in your phone to look to the north. Cooke says the best way to see them is to lie flay on your back so you have the widest possible view of the sky and won’t hurt your neck looking upwards.
Halley’s Comet won’t be in our skies until 2061 but at least we get a couple of annual reminders of its presence each April/May and October.