Halley's Comet won't be visible by naked land-bound eyes again until 2061, but the meteors caused annually when Earth passes through its debris trail again flare across the night sky, May 5-6.

Actually, the Eta Aquarids, as the meteor shower is called, are visible from about April 21 to about May 20 each year, with peak activity on or around May 6, according to data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Unlike most major meteor showers, there is no sharp peak for the Eta Aquarid shower, but a plateau of good rates that last approximately one week during the first week of May.

In fact, the meteors that appear during the Eta Aquarids were left behind by Halley's Comet hundreds of years ago, scientists explain, since the comet's current orbit doesn't pass close enough to the earth to be a source of meteoric activity.


The meteor rates during this year's peak will be about 30 meteors an hour in the northern hemisphere and about 60 meteors anhour in the southern hemisphere. Best viewing time for the shower will be right before dawn the morning of May 6, roughly between 3-5 a.m.

The name of the Eta Aquarid shower was derived from the constellation Aquarius, the region of the sky from which the meteors appear to originate.

The shower is best viewed from the equator to approximately 30 degrees south latitude.

Here are "10 Need-to-Know Things About Meteors and Meteorites," according to NASA:

  •  Meteoroids become meteors -- or shooting stars -- when they interact with a planet's atmosphere and cause a streak of light in the sky. Debris that makes it to the surface of a planet from meteoroids are called meteorites.
  •  Meteorites may vary in size from tiny grains to large boulders. One of the largest meteorite found on Earth is the Hoba meteorite from southwest Africa, which weighs roughly 54,000 kg (119,000 pounds).
  •  Meteor showers are usually named after a star or constellation which is close to the radiant (the position from which the meteor appears to come).
  •  Meteors and meteorites begin as meteoroids, which are little chunks of rock and debris in space.
  •  Most meteorites are either iron, stony or stony-iron.
  •  Meteorites may look very much like Earth rocks, or they may have a burned appearance. Some may have depressioned (thumbprint-like), roughened or smooth exteriors.
  •  Many of the meteor showers are associated with comets. The Leonids are associated with comet Tempel-Tuttle; Aquarids and Orionids with comet Halley, and the Taurids with comet Encke.
  •  When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail. Every year the Earth passes through the comet trails, which allows the debris to enter our atmosphere where it burns up and creates fiery and colorful streaks (meteors) in the sky.
  •  Leonid MAC (an airborne mission that took flight during the years 1998 - 2002) studied the interaction of meteoroids with the Earth's atmosphere.
  •  Meteoroids, meteors and meteorites cannot support life. However, they may have provided the Earth with a source of amino acids: the building blocks of life.

As the sky grows dark tonight, you can watch one of the most famous meteor showers of the year, the Eta Aquarids, zip through the heavens. And in case you’re stuck inside or have cloudy conditions, you can also tune into this spectacular live show from the Slooh Space Camera, starting at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET.

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