Starry, starry night – a trail of Halley’s Comet will sizzle across Brisbane’s night sky early tomorrow morning
While most of us are still self-isolating at home wondering what day it is and what we are going to do next, one thing is certain – this quarantine period has gifted us with an abundance of celestial treats. April dazzled us with early morning meteor showers and a (albeit anticlimactic) super moon, and now May is set to step up to the plate with another sparkly astronomical event. In the wee hours of Wednesday May 6, ancient debris from Halley’s Comet will sear across Brisbane’s night sky, in a meteor shower set to thrill Southern Hemisphere stargazers.
Due to brighten the sky between 3:00–5:00 am tomorrow morning (Wednesday May 6), the eta Aquariid meteor shower is an annual highlight of the cosmic calendar for astronomers and keen stargazers alike. The meteor shower only occurs once a year when our humble planet passes through the stream of debris left behind by starry spectacular Halley’s Comet (a cosmic snowball made up of frozen gases, rock and dust), that takes 76 years to orbit the sun. The famed comet was last visible in our skies all the way back in 1986 – yep, the same year Bon Jovi released karaoke bop ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and Crocodile Dundee started wrestling reptiles on screen.
According to Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium curator and astronomer, Mark Rigby, the eta Aquariid meteor shower is the closest star-watchers will get to the famous Halley’s Comet (which currently lies outside the orbit of Neptune) for another 41 years, with its much-anticipated return to Earth’s vicinity set for 2061. Appearing from the east, the meteors will fly across the sky at an extremely quick speed of 66 kilometres per second, with between five and 20 meteors appearing per hour during the shower’s peak. Plus, this pre-sunrise show will be – fingers crossed – bright enough that you won’t need binoculars or a telescope, just a pair of peepers and a good view of the night sky.
So set those alarms, grab a wooly jumper and cue some Don McLean. This is a light show not to be missed!
Image two credit: Brisbane City Council