Every year, between late April and mid-May, Earth hurtles through debris left in the wake of Halley's Comet (1P/Halley) – and it's set for peak viewing this week. The meteors are rocky remnants and debris from the famed comet, and your best chance to spot these shooting stars is in the hours before dawn on Thursday, May 5.
The Eta Aquarids are famously speedy, entering Earth's atmosphere at 66 kilometers (41 miles) per second and producing a high number of glowing, persistent “trains” of incandescent debris following the meteor's path, lasting anywhere from several seconds to minutes, according to the American Meteor Society.
They will be best seen in the Southern Hemisphere. You will have to get up around 2-3 am on the morning of May 5 for the best view, where you could be rewarded with up to 50 shooting stars an hour, NASA's Bill Cooke told Space.com.
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, you're looking at between 10-30 meteors an hour.
Meteors are known as shooting stars due to the flashes of light caused by dust and rock fragments – some as small as a grain of sand – burning up in the atmosphere as Earth moves through the comet's tail.
They are named for the constellation they seem to appear from – in this case, the constellation Aquarius. In reality, they appear from all directions in the sky so you don't need to look in any particular direction, just up.
As always, shooting stars are best viewed away from artificial light and in the hours before dawn. It also takes around 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust so dress warm, take blankets, and get comfy.
The Eta Aquarids are actually the first of two annual meteor showers made up of debris from Halley's Comet, the other being the Orionids in October.
Humans have beheld the light of Halley’s Comet zipping across the night sky since at least 273 BCE. It even notably features in the Bayeaux Tapestry, the chronicle of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. However, it wasn’t until 1705 that its periodicity was discovered by Edmond Halley.
Because it takes 76 years to orbit the Sun, the comet last passed by Earth visible to common viewers in 1986 and is not expected to enter our part of the inner Solar System again until 2061.