Many Australians who rose early and followed instructions to “look east” on Wednesday morning have witnessed a meteor shower made up of “dust” shed from Halley’s comet.
On top of the meteor shower, a bright and beautiful comet was also visible from the sky.
The meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids, was best viewed between 2am and 5am while the comet remained visible for half an hour before 5am. Those who caught a glimpse of the spectacle turned to social media to describe the “awesome” sights.
The Sydney Observatory said the shower would offer “returns for early risers” who looked east between 3.30am and 5.30am.
“You’ll see shooting stars or meteors appearing to fly outwards from Aquarius,” the observatory said on Twitter yesterday.
“They are dust that was shed from Comet Halley long, long ago.”
Australian National University astronomer Brad Tuckey told The West Australian the meteor shower was projected to be visible “all across Australia”.
“In a dark location, you can expect up to 50 shooting stars per hour,” he said.
It’s one of two meteor showers produced each year from the comet, the other being the Orionids.
“This is a good one to see from the southern hemisphere, but you’ll need to be up in the early morning hours,” Professor Michael Brown, an astrophysicist at Monash University in Melbourne, told The Guardian.
“Comets are dirty snowballs and they leave trails of dust in their orbits. When the Earth runs into that dust, we get meteor showers like the one we’ll get tomorrow morning.”
He said the particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere at about 60km per second and “burn up quite spectacularly and produce a nice shooting star”.
According to NASA, the Eta Aquarids peak during early-May each year and “are known for their speed”.
“The southern hemisphere is preferable for viewing the Eta Aquarids,” the space agency says.
Meanwhile, Comet SWAN, recently discovered by a man in Swan Hill, Victoria, is also visible in the sky but will be closest to Earth on May 12.
Astrophotographer and astronomer Dylan O’Donnell has been tracking the comet and capturing it in recent days above Byron Bay.
Melbourne-based astronomer Con Stoitsis shared a photograph on Wednesday night taken by Will Godward over the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.
In late April, UK astrophotographer Damian Peach described it as “the best comet I’ve seen in some years”.
“What a tail this has developed in recent days,” he said on the weekend.