On Wednesday night, the annual Eta Aquarids meteor shower will be visible around the world. Appearing annually at the same time each year, the heavenly light show will last one week. In lower latitudes, The shower peaks at about a rate of around a meteor per minute.
Eta Aquarid meteors enter the atmosphere at a particularly high speed, traveling at about 148,000 mph. Fast meteors can leave glowing “trains” (incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor) which last for several seconds to minutes.
The meteors we currently see as members of the Eta Aquariid shower separated from Halley’s Comet hundreds of years ago. Each time that Halley returns to the inner solar system its nucleus sheds a layer of ice and rock into space. The dust grains eventually become the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October if they collide with Earth’s atmosphere.
Comet Halley takes about 76 years to orbit the sun once. The last time comet Halley was seen by casual observers was in 1986. Comet Halley will not enter the inner solar system again until 2061. Discovered in 1705 by Edmund Halley, the current orbit of Halley’s Comet does not pass close enough to the Earth to be a source of meteoric activity.
Unfortunately, the meteor display will be dimmed by the appearance of a ‘Super-Flower Moon’ on Thursday night, the third and final supermoon of 2020. The next supermoon will appear in April 2021. The full moon that appears in May is called a Flower Moon because it accompanies the blooming of spring blossoms.
A supermoon occurs when the full moon coincides with the perigee — the closest that the Moon comes to the Earth in its elliptic orbit — resulting in a larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk as viewed from Earth. A full moon at perigee appears roughly 14% larger in diameter than at apogee and appears up to 30 percent brighter. Supermoons usually appear 3-4 times each year.