STEM news – Cinco de Mayo Meteor Shower

stem news 050515Have you ever grabbed a blanket, taken a drive out to the country, and watched the stars at night? It’s so incredible to watch the sun set, the moon come up, and the stars come out. If it’s dark enough, and you watch long enough, you occasionally see a shooting star. Those are my favorite!

Ladies and gentlemen, grab your blankets! Spring has officially arrived, and the Eta Aquarids meteor shower is putting on a special show, just for us. It’s a Cinco de Mayo spectacular!

Tonight is the peak of the shower, but you can still catch shooting stars within a 3-4 day window of the peak.  What is the source of the shower?  Haley’s comet.

The last time Haley’s comet passed by the Earth was 1986, and it won’t be by again until 2061.  So how are we seeing it’s shooting stars now in 2015?   My question exactly! To be honest, I had no idea, so I read up on this for you guys.

It turns out that twice a year, the Earth passes through a cloud of dust left by Haley’s comet – not Haley’s comet itself.  When  we pass through that cloud, tiny little particles of dust enter the Earth’s atmosphere, creating shooting stars.  Incredible!

Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re at a slight disadvantage.  First of all, it’s been cloudy the past few nights here.  Don’t worry, warm weather is coming.  Second, Sunday night was a full moon, so there is a lot of ambient light in the sky.  Finally, the farther north you are, the fewer meteors you will see.

In fact, in the Detroit area where I am, the rate of visible meteorites will be significantly lower than in the south.  To me, it’s still worth going out to watch though.  Alternatively, you can check out live video coverage of the meteor shower broadcast from the Slooh Community Observatory.

If you go out and don’t see anything don’t worry – we have lots of stargazing time left in the season – plus we get the Northern lights!

Stay brilliant ladies and gentlemen, and let me know if you see any shooting stars!

–the STEMinista

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