Spectacular meteor shower headed our way

Debris from Halley’s Comet to streak across early morning sky.

Queenslanders will be treated to a spectacular display of “shooting stars” courtesy of the famous Halley’s Comet.

The Eta Aquariid meteor shower, which is debris from Halley’s Comet, will be visible in the early hours of the morning in coming days, with the peak on 5 May.

Brisbane City Council’s Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium Curator and Aastronomer Mark Rigby said the best place to see the Eta Aquariid meteor shower was in the Southern Hemisphere, giving Queenslanders front-row seats to the display which they can see from their  own backyards.

He said the Eta Aquariid meteor shower occurred when Earth passed through the stream of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet, which takes 76 years to obit the sun and was last visible in Earth’s skies in 1986. 

Eta Aquariid meteors appear once a year and can be spotted up to several days before and after the predicted peak on 5 May.

Mr Rigby said while it was hard to predict exact numbers, stargazers could expect to see between five and 20 meteors an hour during the peak. 

“Meteors will be visible with the naked eye so there’s no need for binoculars or a telescope, just a comfy chair and a clear and unobstructed view of the night’s sky,” Mr Rigby said.

Meteor shower facts

“The best time will be in the early hours of the morning, between 3am and 5am, and although the meteors will come from the east, you can see them anywhere in the sky. 

“The meteors move very quickly – 66km a second – and the glowing light you see isn’t from the tiny grain of rock itself, but actually from the white-hot compressed air in front of it.

“You’ll know you’ve spied an eta Aquariid meteor if you trace that glowing streak backwards and it appears to come from the same point as other meteors.”

Mr Rigby said regional Queenslanders would have the best view.

“Anywhere in Queensland will do, but the farther away from city light pollution you are, the better,” he said.

“Also, the more sky you can see, the better – without trees and buildings in the way.”

Mr Rigby said the meteor shower was the closest we would get to Halley’s Comet for another 41 years. 

“Halley’s Comet was the first comet predicted to return, by Edmond Halley in the 17th century, making its appearance some 16 years after Halley’s death,” he said.

“It's the most famous of all comets and isn’t anticipated to return to Earth’s vicinity until 2061.”