I have been so bogged down with finals/the end of classes, I almost missed the Eta Aquarids! Fear not, today is the last day of the peak so you still have one more amazing opportunity to see this light show! Unfortunately after the Eta Aquarids, there isn’t another shower until late July, so soak it in tonight while you can especially if you are in the Southern Hemisphere where this shower is best seen. If you are stuck in the mid to northern hemisphere area, like me, you should still be able to catch about 10 meteors/hr during its peak! And you can thank the infamous Halley’s comet for this light show.
WHEN is it?
You can catch an Eta Aquarid from about April 20th to May 20th, but you will most likely see the meteors during their peak. This year’s peak is May 5th and May 6th (sorry if you missed a good opportunity yesterday :/); you can also have a good shot of catching them 7th too as this peak isn’t as pronounced as other showers. The best time to watch for meteors is while the constellation is highest in the sky which is during the predawn hours, but the constellation rises above the horizon at midnight. It is also a full moon coming up so the meteors will have to outshine the Moon if you try too close to midnight; you should probably wait a couple hours until the Moon is lower in the sky and somewhat out of the way (closer to dawn).
WHERE should you look?
The Eta Aquarids are named for the start they originate from, Eta Aquarii, which is in the Aquarius constellation. These meteors actually wander pretty far from their origin, so don’t restrict your eyes to that one spot. It is more helpful to know where the meteors are coming from if you can’t view the meteor shower during pre dawn hours. If that is the case, you will want to look southeast where the constellation will be rising. If you aren’t that familiar with the sky, don’t worry; you can use an app (like the one I suggested). Search for Eta Aquarii or the entire constellation and use the app to figure out where the constellation is at that moment. You can even figure out when it rises and sets. If you use the app I do, make sure you turn on sky object trajectories and use that as a guide for where the star (or constellation) will be and at what time. It should be on automatically, but in case it is not, it is the button on the upper right of the settings (as shown on the right).
WHAT are the meteors made of?
Meteors are burning pieces of space debris that come into Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers come from when there are heavy amounts of that debris in certain spots. This is usually a comet (sometimes an asteroid) that crosses Earth’s path and in doing so leaves some scraps. The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower is the first of two times a year Halley’s comet path crosses the Earth’s path. The second time is in October during the Orionid Meteor Shower. Halley’s comet is probably the most renown comet and comes by once every 75 years. Yet we still get a piece of it every Fall and Spring in the meteor showers from the remnants of its old passes. We will have to wait a while to see the entire comet as its next pass isn’t until 2061.
NEXT ON THE LINEUP: The Delta Aquarids in late July.