Backyard Observatory

A Meteor Shower From Halley’s Comet Arrives This Weekend. Here’s What You Need to Know.

There’s no comet more famous than the one named after astronomer Edmond Halley & you can see its trail this weekend.

eta aquarid meteor shower 2019
THE MILKY WAY HANGS IN THE NIGHT SKY AS THE PERSEID METEOR SHOWER PERFORMS ABOVE WOODLAND PARK AND PIKE NATIONAL FOREST IN COLORADO. | GETTY IMAGES/DON GRALL
THE MILKY WAY HANGS IN THE NIGHT SKY AS THE PERSEID METEOR SHOWER PERFORMS ABOVE WOODLAND PARK AND PIKE NATIONAL FOREST IN COLORADO. | GETTY IMAGES/DON GRALL

There’s no comet more famous than the one named after astronomer Edmond Halley. It comes by once -- maybe twice -- a lifetime, making itself visible in the skies over Earth just once every 75 years. Halley’s Comet has the third longest orbit of any comet that produces a meteor shower here on Earth. It did a flyby in 1986 and it won’t be coming around again until July 2061.

However, we have the opportunity to witness a meteor shower created by the debris left in the wake of the icy comet twice every year. The first of those two passes arrives the night of Sunday, May 5, the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The second pass arrives every October with the Orionid meteor shower.

The meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the elliptical orbit of the comet. The debris left behind by the comet collides with Earth’s atmosphere. That debris burns up as it enters the atmosphere and becomes the gorgeous show you can watch the morning of May 5. Around half of the fast-moving meteors will leave a visible, persistent tail in its wake.

This year, many meteor showers land during full or near-full moons, washing meteors out of sight, but the Eta Aquarids will be a good show this go-round. The moon will be near new, which means it will provide little to no interference with your viewing.

For more details on when to get out and how to make the most of the experience, take a look at the Thrillist explainer on how to watch the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer on the news team at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.