Stars from Halley's Comet, or the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, will be visible Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.
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Halley's Comet
Credit: Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images

Are you ready to see bits of Halley's Comet streaking through the sky? It hasn't been seen in the inner solar system since 1986, but the tail of the famed comet — formally known as Eta Aquariids meteor shower — has left a trail of dust and debris in space that is right now causing shooting stars in the night sky. 

What is the Eta Aquariids meteor shower?

The Eta Aquariids meteor shower is an annual meteor shower that began on April 19 and will fizzle out by May 28. However, it peaks on Thursday making just before dawn the best time to view it, according to the American Meteor Society. However, you can view it before midnight on Wednesday and on Friday with similar results.  

It typically produces about 60 shooting stars as seen from the southern hemisphere, and about 10 and 30 for those in the northern hemisphere. That's because they appear to come from the constellation of Aqaurius, which is best seen from below the equator at this time of year. 

What causes the Eta Aqauriids meteor shower?

Halley's Comet is thought to be responsible for Eta Aqaurids. About nine miles wide, it enters the inner solar system to round the Sun every 76 years or so, making it the only comet that can be seen with the naked eye twice in one human lifetime. 

Shooting stars are visible during the Eta Aquariids meteor shower because Earth moves through the comet's stream of particles. They strike our atmosphere at 40.7 miles per hour, which causes them to heat-up. As they discharge that energy they light-up and appear as streaks in the night sky. 

When is the best time to see the Eta Aquariids meteor shower?

The best time to see shooting stars from the Eta Aquariids meteor shower will be in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday as peak activity occurs, which is also when the sky is darkest.

Stargazers don't need to look anywhere in particular in the night sky because the shooting stars can appear anywhere, but they will appear to be the brightest under a dark rural sky and away from light pollution.  

When will Halley's Comet return to the night sky?

It's a long time until Halley's Comet returns to the inner solar system — but it should be worth the wait. In 2061 it will loop around the sun, getting much closer to Earth (though at a safe distance) than on its previous visit and should be a bright object to the naked eye in the night sky.