Nature's big sky show is this week

If you want to see why so many of us marvel at the night sky, then plan to set your alarm clock early on the morning of May 6 for the Eta Aquarid meteor show, I mean, shower.

The Eta Aquarids are chunks of various ices and rock flung off mighty Halley's Comet.

This world-famous comet slowly orbits the sun once every 76 years; it has been seen for centuries. However, every time Halley's swings in close to our home star, intense solar radiation quickly vaporizes over 18 feet of the body's ice and rock nucleus.

The vaporized comet particles are not much bigger than grains of beach sand, so that's why the tiny meteoroids create such a spectacular light show for those of us stuck here on Earth.

Ironically, Halley's Comet is actually far away from us right now; it won't return to Earth's vicinity until the year 2061. But when it comes to meteor showers, that doesn't matter in the least.

Halley's debris tail is immense; it is so long that the Earth's orbit crosses it two times a year - both the Eta Aquarid shower inMay and the Orionid shower in October are the fluff flung off this greatest of comets.

Which brings us to this year's Eta Aquarid shower - it promises to be special for one reason only. Of course, there's a big caveat: don't get your hopes too high. Conducting night sky observations in Vermont is not a hobby for the impatient. Unfortunately, Vermont is among the cloudiest of the 50 states. The odds are often against good viewing. But we'll give it the old college try before dawn May 6.

This week's meteor shower will occur without a moon in the sky. The little crescent moon you may see in the early evening sky of May 5 will set long before dawn. So, if there's a light show to behold, it will take place against the darkest of dark skies - if I may be permitted to coin a phrase - for our region.

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