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Queensland’s stay-at-home stargazing treat with Halley’s Comet meteor shower


“How many you see is an unknown with meteor showers, they are unreliable … but you’ve got to be patient and you might see a handful of meteors.

“You might also see a meteor that is not from Halley’s Comet, with a reasonably dark sky you can also make out the misty band of the Milky Way across the night sky.

“There should also be three bright planets in the night sky. The brightest planet is Jupiter, not too far below and a little fainter is Saturn, and further down towards the eastern horizon with a similar brightness is Mars, with its reddish look.

A sky chart for 3am on May 5, 2020.

A sky chart for 3am on May 5, 2020.Credit:Mark Rigby – Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium

“There may also be the Southern Cross Constellation and a hook-like formation called the Constellation of Scorpius to cap it all off.”

Mr Rigby said it was important to stay away from house lights or street lights to ensure the best view and simply waiting for a few minutes would not be long enough – patience was the key.

He said Halley’s Comet meteors were expected to enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 66 kilometres per second, but meteor speeds can vary from 11 to 72 kilometres per second.

An article on Halley's Comet that appeared in The Age in April 1986.

An article on Halley’s Comet that appeared in The Age in April 1986.Credit:Microfilm

“As the comet goes around the Sun, it warms up, a mixture of ice and dust starts to get affected on the surface, it turns to gas, and vapourises,” Mr Rigby said.

“It leaves a trail of dust particles which spread out over time, so even though Halley’s Comet is way out past Neptune, we’re seeing the little dust particles as we [Earth] are ploughing through them.”

Halley’s Comet was named after English astronomer Edmond Halley, who was looking at the orbits of comets when he realised one comet was coming back over and over again.

In the 18th century, he predicted the comet itself would reappear every 76 years because that was the length of time he believed it took to orbit the Sun.

Mr Halley died before his theory was later proven correct and the comet was named in his honour.

Observations of Halley’s Comet date back to 240BC.

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