Auburn physics professor offers insight about this week’s Eta Aquariids meteor shower
This week, star gazers will be able to view the Eta Aquariids meteor shower, which experts say will be most visible in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 5. Auburn University Associate Professor of Physics Dennis Bodewits discussed the celestial event and how showers of this type are created.
What is the Eta Aquariids meteor shower, and when will people in Auburn and Alabama be able to see it?
A meteor shower is a burst of shooting stars that come from the approximate same direction. This particular meteor shower can produce as many as 10 to 30 meteors per hour, with the peak expected around 3 a.m. central on May 5. But for the next weeks to come, there will be occasional shooting stars associated with this stream. The meteors will be visible toward the southeast in the constellation Aquarius. Looking at the weather forecast, it looks like Thursday morning is your best bet with a clear, dark sky.
How common are showers like this, and how are they generated?
Meteor showers happen when Earth passes the orbit of a comet. Small dust grains were ejected by the comet, sometimes hundreds of years ago, these particles burn up in our atmosphere as they collide with Earth at speeds of 10s of miles per second. There are at least 100 known meteor showers. Most of them are quite faint, but they also vary from one year to the next.
Meteor showers are not limited to Earth. In 2014, comet Siding Spring passed Mars within 87,000 miles, one third of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Measurements from the MAVEN satellite suggested that several 100,000s meteors burned up in its atmosphere, temporarily changing the upper atmosphere of Mars.
What can you tell everyone about the Eta Aquariids’ parent comet?
These meteors originate from one of the most famous comets, Halley. It orbits the Sun every 76 years and was studied by an international fleet of spacecraft in 1986. These craft sent us the first images of the nucleus of a comet, and with a diameter of nearly seven miles, Halley is the largest comet we have visited thus far.
Are there any other celestial events coming in the next month or so that people should have on their calendars?
The big event of May is the total lunar eclipse on May 16 at 10:30 p.m. The eclipse will be a particularly long one and will last almost an hour-and-a-half because the Moon is close to Earth then.
As for meteor showers, the American Meteor Shower is a great resource for when to expect more shooting stars.
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