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How to watch the Eta Aquariid meteor shower 2018: Shooting stars from Halley's Comet to light up the night sky

Mirror logo Mirror 05/05/2018 Sophie Curtis

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Shooting stars spawned by history's most famous comet will be visible from the UK over the weekend.

The Eta Aquariids is an annual event that occurs when Earth passes through a stream of ice and dust left in the trail of Halley's Comet.

The comet produces two meteor showers - the Eta Aquariids, which are always visible in May, and the Orionids, which are visible in October.

Credits: Getty © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Getty

What are the Eta Aquariids?

The Eta Aquariid meteors are formed from debris shed by , which is best known for its appearance in the Bayeux tapestry.

Discovered in 1705 by Edmund Halley, Halley's Comet takes about 76 years to complete one orbit around the sun.

The last time it swung past the Earth was in 1986, when the comet could be seen as a smudge of light in the night sky.

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 13, 2017: The Geminids meteor shower during its peak, in the night sky over Vyatlin Cape on Russky Island in the Sea of Japan. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images) © Getty VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 13, 2017: The Geminids meteor shower during its peak, in the night sky over Vyatlin Cape on Russky Island in the Sea of Japan. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)

It's next appearance will be in 2062, but each year tiny particles from the comet the size of grains of sand burn up in the atmosphere.

This results in a shower of "shooting stars" over the Earth - a display that attracts stargazers around the world.

Why is it called the Eta Aquariids?

This is because the meteor shower appears to emerge from the constellation of Aquarius located in the southern hemisphere - which might make some of the shooting stars difficult to see.

a man standing in front of a blue sky © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited

As Dhara Patel, an astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich, explains: "At this time of the year, much of Aquarius remains below the horizon until the predawn hours.

"For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this meteor shower is not favourably placed."

Why does it occur?

Meteoroids from Halley's Comet, officially designated 1P/Halley, strike the Earth's atmosphere at an approximate speed of 150,000 miles per hour (240,000kph), burning up in the process.

Ms Patel said: "As the dust descends through the Earth's atmosphere it burns up, producing the streaks of light that we refer to as meteors."

a large body of water: Credits: Justin-Ng © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Justin-Ng

When will the Eta Aquariids be visible?

The Eta Aquariids will rain down on Earth most visibly on early Monday morning in a breathtaking astronomical spectacle.

The shower is visible from late April to near the end of May, but Miss Patel, reckons the best time to see it will be on Monday between midnight and dawn, when the sky is darkest and the shower will be at its brightest.

She said: "Typically, after midnight would be a good time to look for meteors but for the Eta Aquariids you'll need to wait until the early hours - around 3am-4am.

"The waning gibbous moon is also close by, meaning there is likely to be interference from moonlight."

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 13, 2017: The Geminids meteor shower during its peak, in the night sky over Tokarevsky Lighthouse on Egersheld Cape on Russky Island in the Sea of Japan. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images) © Getty VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 13, 2017: The Geminids meteor shower during its peak, in the night sky over Tokarevsky Lighthouse on Egersheld Cape on Russky Island in the Sea of Japan. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)

Sky watchers in the southern hemisphere will have the best view of the meteors, but from the UK it should be possible to spot up to 30 per hour.

How to watch the Eta Aquariids

Although they can show up anywhere in the sky, the Eta Aquariids appear to originate from the direction of the constellation Aquarius in the north-east.

The best time to see them is just before dawn from a dark location in the countryside.

“For most observers, the eta Aquariids are only visible during the last couple of hours before the start of morning twilight,” astronomer Robert Lunsford told the International Meteor Organization.

Ms Patel advises getting far away from all artificial lights.

Magnificent meteor shower pictures: Provided by Photos services

She said: "It's best to head away from the city to a rural location where there are few buildings and trees to obscure your view of the south-eastern horizon in particular.

"Heading to higher altitudes may also make viewings easier.

"Remember, the best tool for the job is your eyes as they give you the widest field of view.

"It will be challenging to spot meteors from this shower but some do leave persistent trains so you could still spot a few!"

Another way to view the meteor shower is via the , which uses robotic telescopes to give everyone the chance to be an astronomer.

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