By Stacy Palen
Don’t forget to remind your students about the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower, coming in the beginning of May. The peak occurs around May 4-5. This is the last chance for most of us to remind Spring semester students to go out and watch a meteor shower!
This meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet. Particles lost from the comet continue to drift in the Solar System, gradually changing their position. As Earth moves through space, it passes near the trajectory of the comet and runs into collections of these particles. The particles burn up, creating meteors as they fall through the atmosphere. This will happen repeatedly at particular times of year, as Earth returns to the same point in its orbit.
Halley’s comet has a 76-year orbit, so it is a short-period comet. It will not be back in the inner Solar System until 2061.
To watch a meteor shower, go to a clear dark sight where the horizon is not obstructed. Spend about half an hour in the dark, without your cell phone or other bright light in view. This will allow your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then just watch for meteors! They are best seen with the naked eye.
If you are careful and methodical, your observations can contribute to the study of meteors and meteor streams! To learn more, visit the Astronomical League’s Meteor Observing Program website.