The 2018 Eta Aquarid meteor shower started on April 19, but its best part is yet to come. The Eta Aquarids are active until May 28 and will be peaking this weekend, which gives sky watchers plenty of time to prep for the upcoming shooting star show.
According to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower should fall on Sunday, May 6, before dawn on Monday.
But the Eta Aquarids generally have a broader peak and should be visible from May 5 through May 7. This means that you can catch the meteor shower just before dawn on any of the three days, reports the Patch.
Writing for the International Meteor Organization on May 1, 2017, Robert Lunsford revealed the best times to take in the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.
“There is no sharp peak for this shower, but rather a plateau of good rates that last approximately one week centered on May 6.”
Although there’s a chance that this year the shooting stars may be washed out by the waning gibbous moon, Cooke told Space.com you might still catch a glimpse of the zooming meteors as they barrel across the night’s sky.
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower has been known to produce up to 30 meteors an hour north of the equator, notes the Patch. But the Eta Aquarids are even more spectacular when observed in the Southern Hemisphere, where they rank as one of the most beautiful meteor showers of the year, EarthSky reports.
However, this year’s celestial display may be a tad more low key. Cooke estimates that the 2018 Eta Aquarid peak will showcase around 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Even so, some of these fast-moving meteors might overpower the moonlight and offer us a fine spectacle this weekend.
Eta Aquarids are renowned for their speed. These meteors dart across the sky at about 148,000 mph, leaving a glowing “train” of incandescent debris that can last for several seconds or even minutes.
Just like in the case of the Lyrid meteor shower, which lit up the sky on April 22 during the Lyrids’ peak, the best way to spot the falling Eta Aquarids is to avoid staring at their radiant.
For Eta Aquarids, the radiant — or the direction from where they seem to originate — is the Eta Aquarii star, one of the brighter stars in the Aquarius constellation. Eta Aquarii will be clearly visible for stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere but staring straight at it might make you miss the falling meteors.
Cooke points out that the best way to enjoy the show is to lie flat on your back and look straight up. In case you’re watching the meteor shower from mid-northern latitudes, where Eta Aquarii won’t be high in the sky, you need to find a dark-sky site with a relatively clear southern horizon.
“Observers near the equator will have the best views, but even as far north as Miami, the view will be much better than it will be from New York or San Francisco, for example,” states Space.com.
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is produced by Halley’s Comet and can be seen from Earth each time our planet crosses the comet’s path. Although Halley last zoomed past us in 1986 and won’t be seen again until 2061, every year the Earth passes through the trail of debris it left behind.
This happens twice a year and gives rise to two separate meteor showers: the Eta Aquarids, seen from late April through May, and the Orionids, visible toward the end of October.