How to see Halley’s Comet remnants in the Bay Area night sky

Look up at the night sky this week in the Bay Area, and you might see a few pieces of Halley’s Comet streaking by.

The Eta Aquarids, a faint meteor shower made when debris left behind by the famous comet intersects with Earth’s orbit, peak Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

At that time, sky watchers can expect to see up to 30 meteors an hour, said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

The radiant — the celestial point from which the meteor shower appears to originate, from the Earth viewer’s perspective — is in the constellation Aquarius. The Eta Aquarids are named for their perceived close proximity to Eta Aquarii, one of the brightest stars in Aquarius.

“It’s best seen from the (Southern Hemisphere) because the constellation’s southerly, but you can see some in the north,” Cooke said. “It’s not too bad of a meteor shower.”

The best time to see the shower in the Northern Hemisphere is in the pre-dawn hours, according to the American Meteor Society. Though they have longer trails, it’s unlikely that Bay Area viewers will see any particularly bright meteors.

Compared to the Lyrids, the first major meteor shower of the spring, the Bay Area has a better chance of spotting this week’s meteor shower in the sky thanks to a recent new moon.

For the best chance at seeing the Eta Aquarids, head out to a spot with less light pollution. People who want to see multiple meteors should expect to sit outdoors for an hour for the maximum chance of viewing.

May could be a busy month for night sky observers, Cooke said. A blood moon lunar eclipse will occur around 6:30 pm Pacific on May 15, the day of the full moon. At the end of the month, a possible never-before-seen meteor shower called the Tau Herculids could make an appearance as well.

The latter consists of particles from Comet Schwassmann—Wachmann, which broke up in 1995. If its pieces move fast enough, they may turn into a faint, fast-moving show that appears to come from the constellation Hercules.

As for Halley’s Comet itself, Earthlings have a long wait for its next appearance. Last seen in 1986, the comet will appear again in 2061 after making its regular orbit around the sun, which averages about 76 years, according to NASA.

Gwendolyn Wu (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

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