Stargazers are in for a spectacular treat this weekend. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is just around the corner and will be lighting up the sky in a fantastic celestial display – one that you won’t want to miss.
Born from a famous comet and named after a constellation of the southern sky, the Eta Aquarids rain down on Earth every year between April 19 and May 28. These bright and very fast meteors are well-known for their incredible speed and represent leftover debris from Halley’s Comet, explains NASA.
What Are The Eta Aquarids?
Shed a long time ago by the icy comet as it ventured close to the sun, these meteors peacefully float around in the cosmic night until our planet makes its yearly pass through Halley’s trail. Snagged by Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Eta Aquarids ignite in the night sky as shooting stars, producing an annual meteor shower that has been deemed one of the best of the entire year, particularly for viewers in the Southern Hemisphere.
The reason why the Eta Aquarids put on a more spectacular light show in this part of the globe has to do with their radiant and its viewing location in the sky. As The Inquisitr previously reported, these meteors get their name from the southern constellation of Aquarius (“The Water Bearer”), which serves as their radiant – or the point in the sky from where the Eta Aquarids seem to radiate.
This particular constellation is higher up in the sky in the Southern Hemisphere than it is in the Northern Hemisphere, where it only rises well after midnight and climbs up the horizon just shortly before dawn, notes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a result, sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere get to enjoy a much bountiful streak of meteors — as much as 40 per hour on their peak night.
“These meteors are fast — traveling at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into Earth’s atmosphere. Fast meteors can leave glowing ‘trains’ (incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor) which last for several seconds to minutes.”
Meanwhile, in the Northern Hemisphere the Eta Aquarids only reach an hourly rate of about 10 meteors. However, despite being more low-key than in the Southern Hemisphere, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower can still put on an incredible light show for viewers in this part of the world. According to NASA, the Eta Aquarids often appear as “earthgrazers” in the northern sky – “long meteors that appear to skim the surface of the Earth at the horizon.”
The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
While the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower may have already started – the meteors have been active for about two weeks now – the best is yet to come. That’s because the Eta Aquarids won’t be peaking until later tonight — or very early on Sunday morning, reports Space.
As the media outlet points out, different sources point to different dates for the peak of the Eta Aquarids. The event is largely predicted for May 6 by some calendars, but the best time to observe this meteor shower is on the night of May 4-5, after 3 a.m. local time.
”Unlike most major annual meteor showers, there is no sharp peak for this shower, but rather a plateau of good rates that last approximately one week, centered on May 7,” shows Space, citing the American Meteor Society.
Judging by the excellent viewing conditions announced for this year, the 2019 Eta Aquarids are expected to dazzle onlookers with a memorable light show. The peak of the meteor shower coincides with the rise of the new moon on May 4, which will guarantee dark skies for tonight’s performance, notes Earth Sky.
“In general, the best time to watch these fast and often bright meteors is in the early morning hours, before the onset of morning twilight.”
This means that you should grab a blanket or a sleeping bag, pour yourself a thermos of hot coffee, cocoa, or tea and head out into the wilderness after 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. local time. Find a secluded, dark spot away from disruptive city lights and allow your eyes to adjust to the night for about half an hour, then get ready to take in the majesty of the meteor shower.
“Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible,” NASA advises stargazers.
“After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”
Halley’s Comet And Its Meteor Showers
The source of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, Halley’s Comet goes around the sun once every 75 years. The last time the icy body was observed by sky watchers was 33 years ago, in 1986. The comet will return for another pass through the inner solar system in a little over four decades, making another flyby of the sun in the year 2061.
“Although the comet itself is still far from Earth, eons’ worth of its ejected debris will lead to one of this year’s best meteor showers,” notes Astronomy magazine on its website.
When it finally flies past the sun again, Halley’s Comet will shed more layers of ice and dust, adding to the trail of debris that collides with Earth’s atmosphere twice a year, giving birth to two meteor showers.
As previously covered by The Inquisitr, the Earth passes through the trail of dust grains left behind by Halley’s Comet in early May – when the Eta Aquarids streak across the sky – and again in the fall. The second brush with Halley’s cometary debris gives rise to the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks in late October.
If you’re planning on taking some glorious shots of the Eta Aquarids in their fiery streak across the sky, check out these tips from The Inquisitr on how to catch a meteor shower on camera.