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‘Halley-id’ Meteors

May 4, 2019

If astronomers had discovered how meteor showers work a little sooner, then we might be in the midst of the Halley-id shower right now. Instead, it’s known as the Eta Aquarid shower — named after a star in Aquarius.

The shower should be at its peak in the wee hours of Monday morning, with perhaps a few dozen meteors per hour. But the shower is spread out, so you can see a fair number of meteors for a few nights before and after the peak. And the Moon sets not long after sunset, providing dark skies for the “shooting stars.”

The meteors can streak across any part of the sky. But they all appear to rain into the sky from near the star Eta Aquarii — hence the shower’s name.

All meteor showers are named for the constellation that contains their “radiant” — the point at which the meteors enter the atmosphere. Most showers use only the name of the constellation. But a few constellations host more than one shower. Those showers are named for the star that’s closest to the radiant.

At the time this scheme was devised, the source of meteor showers was unknown. Today, though, we know that showers come from streamers of debris shed by comets or asteroids. Had this been known earlier, then perhaps the showers would be named for their parent bodies — in this case, Comet Halley. But Halley spawns two showers. So this one would be the Spring Halley-ids, with the other, in October, known as the Fall Halley-ids.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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