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Night Sky News: Watch Bits of Halley’s Comet Fall

If you have clear skies early this Thursday night through Friday morning, watch for a minor meteor shower with a famous pedigree.

Known as the Eta Aquarids, this annual shooting-star show is set to peak in the predawn hours of May 6, with rates of 10 to 40 meteors an hour.  While not a spectacular show like its August cousin, the Perseids, the cool factor for sky-watchers is that all those modest meteors are bits of debris from Halley’s Comet.

Each spring Earth passes through leftover bits and pieces shed by the famous icy visitor. Coming through the inner solar system every 76 years, Halley melts a bit from the heat of the sun and sheds some pounds as gas, dust, and rocks break off.

After countless trips around the sun, large clouds of mostly sand grain-size particles have ended up scattered all along Halley’s orbit. The flurry of shooting stars you see during the shower occurs as each of those particles slams into the upper atmosphere at over 100,000 miles (161,000 kilometers) an hour, causing the atmosphere to ionize in a fraction of a second.

While you can start watching for a slight uptick in shooting star numbers on late Thursday night, you will have to set your alarm for early morning Friday if you want to catch the best part of the show.

Illustration courtesy Starry Night Software

Between 3 a.m. and local dawn you will see the peak rates. That’s because all the meteor streaks will appear to radiate out from the shower’s namesake constellation Aquarius, which rises in the southeast in the predawn hours this time of the year.

Night owls in the Northern Hemisphere are favored for this celestial fireworks show, and astronomers say the closer you are to the Equator, the higher the chance for more meteors.

The new moon earlier in the week will ensure that the skies will be perfectly dark for the shower. But no matter where you are, the best way to enjoy the Eta Aquarids is to get to a dark location away from cities and get comfortable on a reclining lawn chair—with lots of blankets and coffee.

Forget binoculars and telescopes, as this cosmic show encompasses most of the overhead sky, so your eyes are the best because they can soak in the biggest chuck of night sky possible.

While Halley’s Comet itself won’t be returning until 2061, you won’t have to wait until then to at least see bits and pieces of the iconic comet streak across the heavens.

BTW, if you have never looked at the rings of Saturn or seen a distant star cluster through a telescope, then May 7 is your best bet to do just that.

This Saturday marks International Astronomy Day, when local astronomy clubs, planetariums, and observatories will conduct beginner stargazing workshops and set up telescopes for the general public to view the wonders of the universe.

Find out what stargazing events are happening in your neck of the woods in the United States on the Astronomy League website, and see what’s going on north of the border on the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s website.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.


  1. cd duplication sydney
    March 22, 2013, 8:20 pm

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  2. Andrea Okleshen
    Frederick, Md 21702 United States
    May 6, 2012, 8:44 pm

    I saw Hailey’s comet in the sky about 8:30 I believe!!! or it was a fragment, beautiful long tail just below Venus, never seen anything like it in my life!!!

  3. Cometas en las culturas antiguas
    April 22, 2012, 12:43 pm

    […] Fotos|1.2.3,4 […]

    January 23, 2012, 3:56 pm

    Wow my birthday after and adeles bitrhday on that day so must be our brthday gift lolz !!!

  5. tameika bailey
    July 28, 2011, 3:13 am

    at 10:19 pm i was sitting on the porch when i saw the halleys comet it seem like for 10 or 15 seconds i was so excited an i have not heard them mention anything on the news yet its been 24 hours i wonder why

  6. Juvy Love
    Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
    May 6, 2011, 10:48 pm

    hmm….since i didn’t seen this comet last May 6…I’ll have to wait for another 76 years to see this comet again…so sad.. 🙁

  7. Brenda Cordoba
    Managua, Nicaragua
    May 6, 2011, 4:39 pm

    thank nat geo

  8. Jelena
    Belgrade, Serbia
    May 6, 2011, 12:51 pm

    I am from Belgrade is it going to be tonight something I did`t know about last night.

  9. Zulfikar Ali Ando
    Medan, Indonesia
    May 6, 2011, 11:17 am

    how about effect to our live in the future?…

  10. Isman Punggul
    Medan, Indonesia
    May 6, 2011, 10:12 am

    I so want to see, unfortunately in the eastern hemisphere can not seem

  11. Mariana Miguel
    Lisboa, Portual
    May 6, 2011, 8:19 am

    Can i sse from portugal?

  12. pramod jirapure
    yavatmal maharashtra india
    May 6, 2011, 7:34 am

    thanks yesterday night we have wonderful experience @3.00am to 5.30 am beautiful showering experience with rates of 10 to 20 meteors an hour.

  13. abdelrahman
    alex egy
    May 6, 2011, 5:47 am

    very nice pic what’s the best cam can some one bought

  14. sue gleave
    lancashire, UK
    May 6, 2011, 5:40 am

    I know its past now but what would have been the time to `look up` from here in good old Blightey??

    Al Khobar,KSA
    May 6, 2011, 3:26 am


  16. Rishutosh Sharma
    May 6, 2011, 3:13 am

    I watched many many amazing things in the Sky…………..any one not believe it’s simply……………

  17. arfeen zaidi
    Lahore , Pakistan
    May 6, 2011, 3:12 am

    Can i see the comet here in Pakistan. Ive never seen such and it would be my best night for ever

  18. Unkwn
    May 6, 2011, 2:55 am

    Will i be able to see from india ?

  19. Anonymous
    May 6, 2011, 2:14 am

    […] Imagem da National Geographic: […]

  20. Lorna
    May 6, 2011, 1:16 am


    Im in the Philippines, what time can I view it in Manila.


  21. Sue
    NE CA
    May 6, 2011, 1:09 am

    What is the best time Pacific time to look for the comet – where are you located I can’t find anything on the Internet regarding when in Pacific, Central, and Eastern time is the best.

  22. Irénke Csókásné
    May 6, 2011, 12:53 am

    Kedves András!
    Elnézést, de a megszólítás lemaradt!:)

  23. Irénke Csókásné
    May 6, 2011, 12:50 am

    It shows that Hungary can not be seen in the phenomenon?

  24. Dacy
    May 6, 2011, 12:34 am

    Is it visible in far east countries? thanks!

  25. Izrul
    Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia
    May 5, 2011, 11:07 pm

    hey,is it visible from Malaysia?i couldn’t get a precise time of the occasion.is it Saturday night of US timeline?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 11:23 pm

      Aquarid meteor shower is visible around the world with best viewing locations being centered around the equator where the highest rates of shooting stars will be visible. But do keep in mind this is a very modest shower with the cool factor being that each métier you see is originating from Halley’s Comet.

  26. Johnny Molina
    May 5, 2011, 10:55 pm

    I live in Ecuador in the Andes mountains could see the meteor shower?

  27. Miguel Rios
    May 5, 2011, 10:54 pm

    How about in Venezuela??? Can I see them here??

  28. fred
    May 5, 2011, 10:46 pm

    here in philippines what time will it be seen? tnx..

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 11:25 pm

      Best time to view is between midnight and 4 am local time may 6 and 7.

  29. Homero Salazar
    May 5, 2011, 9:54 pm

    Is it gonna be visible in Mexico?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 10:18 pm

      Yes, actually Mexico should see a better performance than the US or Canada tonight. The trick is to get to a dark location away from light pollution. don’t forget Friday night will see some meteor activity as well.

  30. adriana
    May 5, 2011, 9:38 pm

    I wonder if can i see it here in mexico?

  31. Florence Jaudon
    Perth, Australia
    May 5, 2011, 9:37 pm

    Once again the event is all over by the time you tell us about it.
    I wish you could post a12 hours earlier for us in Australia.

  32. maldito
    May 5, 2011, 9:27 pm

    is there a specific country where you can see this comet?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 10:21 pm

      With this sky event it’s not Halley’s comet we are seeing but the leftover material shed by it that appears in the skies above as shooting stars. We will have to wait until 2061 to see Halley’s again.

  33. antonio perez
    May 5, 2011, 9:06 pm

    Se verá en cielo venezolano? Para estar pendiente

  34. Müller
    May 5, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Can we brazillians can see this meteor shower??

  35. ruben samaro
    May 5, 2011, 8:50 pm

    could i see it here in northern california?? if soo where should i go to see it perfectly?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 10:25 pm

      Best way to see the shower is outside of city limits from the dark countryside , but if you can’t get away then you will still see the brighter meteors – maybe 5 to 10 per hour in the pre-dawn hours of Friday . There will still be some of the shower visible after the peak – so might be worth looking up on Friday night too.

  36. […] For more information about the shower, plus a picture to help you find its location, check out this great article by the National Geographic Society:  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/05/night-sky-news-watch-bits-of-halleys-comet-fall/ […]

  37. tsvenza
    Harare Zimbabwe
    May 5, 2011, 4:19 pm

    Can i see the comet here in zimbabwe. Ive never seen such and it would be my best night ever

    • Andrew Fazekas
      May 5, 2011, 10:28 pm

      Yes, the meteor shower is visible from southern Africa but it will be a muted show with lesser number of shooting stars visible -still worth a look though!
      Remember it’s not Comet Halley itself we are seeing during the meteor shower but the particles that have melted off the the comet nucleus. Each shooting star is a sand-grain sized particle that broke off comet Halley probably many centuries ago.

  38. Mohammed Abul-huda
    May 5, 2011, 12:18 pm

    Is it visible here in the middle east ??? cause I really want to watch such thing !!!