On this day in 1985 Halley’s Comet crossed the celestial equator. That night, the comet entered the overflowing bowl of Aquarius the water bearer. With them paying the freight, we donated copies of this fireback to the Royal Astronomical Society in London, The Society Astronomique de France in Paris, and The Astronomische Gesellschaft in Stuttgart, Germany.
If you can’t wait for its return in 2062, you can catch a little glimpse of it leftovers twice in 2020. Mark your calendars.
May 5: The Eta Aquariids
This annual shower originates from none other than Halley’s Comet, and these meteors come in fast — 66 km (41 miles) per second! However, the shower’s radiant (in the Water Jar asterism of Aquarius) never gets very high above the horizon for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, it rises only a couple of hours before dawn. Worse yet, this year’s peak will be spoiled by a nearly full Moon that remains in the sky virtually all night.
October 21: The Orionids
Here’s another modest shower due to Halley’s Comet. This year its peak, early on October 21st, is well suited for observers in North America and Europe. Moonlight won’t be a problem, and you can start watching around 9 p.m. on the 20th, after the shower’s radiant (located above Orion’s bright reddish star Betelgeuse) clears the horizon. But the best rates, perhaps one meteor every few minutes, will come after midnight.