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Meteor shower from Comet Halley will soon peak over Kentucky. When should you see the show?

Outside of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, there’s one star-studded event that may have escaped your notice.

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is expected to peak in the evening of Thursday, May 4, and into the early morning hours of Friday, May 5.

The meteors are known for their tremendous speed and connection to Halley’s Comet. Additionally, Thursday evening will be virtually moonless, making for excellent viewing conditions if the weather cooperates.

Here’s how to get the best possible view and take part in a local astronomy club’s stargazing event that evening.

When and where can I experience the meteor shower?

Ideally, the best place to view the Eta Aquarides is from the Southern Hemisphere. You can still get a good look at them from the Northern Hemisphere, although you won’t see as many and will need to be more patient.

“Meteors are not for the impatient,” Thomas Troland, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Kentucky, recently told the Herald-Leader.

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“It’s nothing like the Fourth of July,” Troland said.

According to astronomy publication Space.com, you can see the Eta Aquarids meteor shower between April 15 and May 27 this year. The meteor shower reaches its peak intensity on the night of May 4 and the early morning hours of May 5.

What’s special about the Eta Aquarids meteor shower?

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Eta Aquarids is the meteor shower’s connection to history’s most famous comet: Halley’s Comet.

Each time Halley’s Comet returns to our inner solar system, it leaves a trail of ice and rocks in its wake. As explained by NASA, these dust grains become the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October when they happen to collide with Earth’s atmosphere.

When they do, the space debris in Earth’s atmosphere burns up, creating fiery and colorful displays in the sky. The Eta Aquarids in particular are known for moving at high speeds. According to NASA, the meteors travel through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of about 140,000 miles per hour. The glowing trains they leave behind can last several seconds or sometimes minutes.

Halley’s Comet takes about 75 years to orbit the sun once, and according to NASA, the comet is not expected to reenter the inner solar system until 2061.

The Eta Aquarids take their name from the constellation Aquarius, the point in the sky from which they appear to originate, also called the radiant.

How to get the best view of the meteor shower

Troland recommends grabbing a lawn chair and getting as far away from city lights as possible. Light pollution ruins your view of the night sky. Fortunately, the moon will be a waning crescent that night, so the light shouldn’t obscure the view too much.

Other than that, you don’t need much to watch the meteor shower. The naked eye is enough, Troland said.

According to Business Insider, the best time to view the Eta Aquarids is Friday around 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. local time. However, if you don’t want to wake up early, the Bluegrass Amateur Astronomy Club plans to enjoy the view at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary on Thursday, provided the weather cooperates. Make sure you check the weather forecast and the club’s social media pages before you go.

Rick Schrantz, the club’s president, told the Herald-Leader that his members typically bring six to 10 telescopes for their monthly stargazing sessions. The May session coincidentally coincides with the Eta Aquarids meteor shower.

The benefit of joining the club is that you’ll likely get an “enhanced experience” compared to what you might get by observing the night sky yourself, Schrantz said.

Schrantz said the club’s members are eager to point out nebulae and galaxies and offer insights that can help you find your way in the night sky.

The club plans to start setting up at sunset, which is on Thursday at approximately 8:30 p.m. If you plan to go, Schrantz recommends calling Raven Run at 859-272-6105 so staff know how many people to expect.

Have a question about Kentucky’s environment for our service journalism team? Send your questions and comments by email to ask@herald-leader.com or submit them using the Know Your Kentucky form below.

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