DR. SKY BLOG

Meteor shower and lunar eclipse will highlight May skies

Apr 21, 2021, 2:00 PM
(AP Photo)...
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

As the month of May opens up, get set for one of the best meteor showers of the entire year.

This meteor shower is known as the Eta Aquariid shower and the peak of this great event is just days away.

Meteors are the debris that is left in the orbits of comets and they orbit around the sun with a specific period.

The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is the leftover debris from Halley’s Comet, one of the most famous of all comets.

The orbit of Halley’s Comet is some 76 years in length, giving the comet the title of “Mankind’s Comet,” making it visible at least once in the average lifetime of a human on Earth.

Astronomer Edmund Halley did not discover the comet that is named in his honor, but rather he predicted its orbit and the return of the comet’s orbit in a period of 76 years.

The last time that many remember the return of Halley’s Comet was back in the years 1910 and 1986.

Did you get to see Halley’s Comet in 1986? If you did, remember that it will not return until July 28, 2061, when the comet will once again be closest to the sun at perihelion.

But don’t let that stop you from viewing the debris from this most famous of all comets. Plan on going to the darkest location you can find to set up camp and begin your observations on the evening of May 4.

This is an early morning event for sky observers, as the moon will rise in the southeastern sky around 2 a.m. Arizona time.

The light of the moon will lower the number of meteors seen but still worth the effort if you have a clear sky.

Best night to look for the meteors will be on the night of May 5 into the next morning. The moon will rise May 6 at 2:30 a.m. in the southeastern sky and appear some 22% illuminated.

The meteors will be seen coming from that part of the sky.

For those of you who require additional specifics, please note that nautical twilight will begin to show early signs of light by around 4:37 a.m. and civil twilight will begin to wipe out the faintest meteors and stars by 5:10 a.m.

If all goes well, you may get to see upwards of 20 meteors per hour – your chance to see actual debris from the most famous of all comets.

The debris, the size of beach sand and pebbles, is entering the atmosphere at speeds of 150,000 mph.

Here is a finder chart for the meteor shower.

On a final note, and one that we will cover in greater detail in a future blog, will be the total lunar eclipse of May 26.

This event will take place in Arizona with the partial phase beginning at 2:45 a.m. local time. The total phase begins at 4:11 a.m., along with greatest eclipse at 4:19 a.m. Totality will end at 4:26 a.m.

This is a full flower super moon – the closest full moon of all of 2021!

Here is a basic outline of the eclipse.

More on this major event in a few weeks.

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Meteor shower and lunar eclipse will highlight May skies