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Meteor Shower Time: The Eta Aquarids

3 nights of the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower by David Kingham There are a total of 16 meteors and 1 very bright Iridium satellite for good measure.

3 nights of the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower by David Kingham
There are a total of 16 meteors and 1 very bright Iridium satellite for good measure.

If you want to see a meteor shower within the next couple months, this is your last chance! After the Eta Aquarids, there isn’t another shower until late July. This shower is known for a particularly spectacular show in the Southern Hemisphere. However, 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! Added bonus, you have none other than the infamous Halley’s comet to thank 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 the mornings of May 5th and May 6th; you can also have a good shot of catching them on May 4th and 7th too. 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. Also May 6th is a new moon, so you don’t have to worry about the Moon outshining the meteors.

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. phone app guideIf 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.

If the weather isn’t ideal, check out Slooh’s livestream starting at May 5th 8pm EST (00:00 GMT May 6th).

NEXT ON THE LINEUP: The Delta Aquarids in late July.

Happy Observing!


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