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Shooting stars from Halley’s Comet’s tail will peak across Irish skies this week


by Sarah Finnan
04th May 2021

Getty

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Stargazers are in for an extra special treat this week as debris from Halley’s Comet, a short-period comet visible from Earth every 75-76 years, will light up the sky once again.

If the post-bank holiday blues are in full swing today, then wishing on a shooting star might be exactly what you need to get yourself back on track for the week ahead and you’ll be able to do so courtesy of Halley’s Comet.

Last seen in 1986, Halley’s Comet is so-called after Edmond Halley, the English astronomer who first discovered it. Arguably one of the world’s most famous comets, it’s the only naked-eye comet that can appear twice in a human lifetime. However, while Halley’s Comet itself is not due to make another appearance until 2061, the annual Eta Aquarids meteor shower will be visible this week.

One of two meteor showers created by debris from Halley’s Comet, it’s usually active between mid-April to the end of May. An annual meteorological occurrence, it’s expected to peak in the early hours of Wednesday morning May 5, before dawn, with NASA reporting a peak activity meteor count of 10-20 meteors an hour.

Known for their speed, Eta Aquarid meteors travel into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 km per second. Characterised by the glowing “trains” they leave in their wake, it’s these incandescent bits of debris they leave behind them that are visible to the naked eye – lasting anywhere from a couple of seconds up to several minutes. Caused by bits of ice or rock that break off from Halley’s Comet each time it returns to the inner solar system, this “cosmic litter” can be seen each trailing behind the comet each time it sweeps around the sun.

Best seen under a dark, moonless sky, anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of the action should seek out an area well away from city or street lights. NASA advises that it will take about half an hour for your eyes to adjust to the dark, also suggesting that you bring along a sleeping bag or blanket and lie flat on your back to get the best view of things.