A Meteor Shower from Halley's Comet Will Light up the Night Sky on Cinco de Mayo
The display is created by the remnants of the famous comet.
As a comet speeds through the solar system, it leaves a trail that hangs around long after it's gone. If Earth's orbit runs through the dust and debris left behind, it crashes into Earth's atmosphere as a meteor shower. Twice a year, Earth plows through the debris left behind by Halley's Comet, arguably the most famous comet.
That's going to happen in early May, creating the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. In 2021, the meteor shower will last from April 19 through May 28, with the peak—the night it's really worth going out and looking for meteors—landing the night of Cinco de Mayo, May 5. That means you can conclude your celebrations with a stunning display in the night sky.
In fact, this year is a relatively good year to hunt for Eta Aquarid meteors, with Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office telling Thrillist that you could see as many as 40 meteors per hour under dark skies early on the morning of May 6. While it pales in comparison to what is expected from the year's biggest showers—the Perseids and the Geminids—you'll get to view the Eta Aquarids in the warmer spring weather.
Eta Aquarid meteors tend to be faint and fast, which makes finding dark skies crucially important if you want to see as many meteors as possible. You have to escape the far-reaching light pollution of cities to really get a good view. The meteors spectacularly burning up overhead are remnants from Halley's Comet or Comet 1P Halley. It passes our planet about once every 76 years, last coming this way in 1986. For most of us, that makes it a once-in-a-lifetime comet. It won't be back until July 2061.
Though, in another sense, you can see it twice a year. The Eta Aquarids, along with the Orionid meteor shower later in the year, are created by the debris left behind by Halley's Comet. It might be a bit of a stretch if you go around telling everyone you saw Halley's Comet, but it's not totally off base.
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, the best meteor showers of 2021, or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.