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Meteor Shower Caused by Halley's Comet Tail Peaks This Week

By Nick Sanchez   |   Monday, 05 May 2014 10:18 AM

Image: Meteor Shower Caused by Halley's Comet Tail Peaks This Week
File photo from 1986 Halley's comet streaks thought the sky in this image from the National Astronomy Observatories (NOAO).
The annual meteor shower caused by Earth's passing through the cloud of space dust left behind by Halley's comet begins early Tuesday morning, just before dawn.

The Christian Science monitor reported that Halley's comet made its last pass through Earth's orbit in 1986, and it will pass through again in 2061. Each time it passes, it leaves debris in its wake. As Earth's atmosphere collides with that debris, the pieces ignite, resulting in beautiful meteor showers.

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It’s a good year to watch, as the moon will have set by the time the shower begins, causing almost no light interference. Unfortunately for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, many of the expected 60 meteors an hour will sit below the horizon, streaking out of view.

Usual Eta Aquarids produces roughly 10 meteors an hour at 26 degrees north latitude (Miami, Corpus Christi), 5 meteors per hour at 35 degrees latitude (Los Angeles, Atlanta, Charleston) and near zero to the north of 40 degrees latitude (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia).

There is still a good chance of catching a few "earth grazers," however, according to Bill Cooke, a member of the Space Environments team at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Earthgrazers are pieces of debris that skim the Earth's atmosphere, producing the iconic shooting star effect.

"Earthgrazers are rarely numerous, but even if you only see a few, you're likely to remember them," he said.

Because Halley's comet is one that passes through Earth's orbit in two places, stargazers have the chance to see the Halley's comet meteor showers twice a year, once in early May and once in mid-to-late October. The first is known as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, and the second is known as the Orionid meteor shower.

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