Eta Aquarids: Annual Meteor Shower Takes Place as Earth Passes Through Tail of Halley’s Comet
A photo of Halley’s comet during its closest approach to the inner solar system in 1986. Credit NASA
The month-long event occurs until May 21, but spectators are expected to get the best view of the debris as it burns through the atmosphere on Thursday. Halley’s Comet will appear next in 2061.
Prime time for the Eta Aquarids will be during the shower’s peak, May 5 through May 7. The new moon on May 6 will offer the darkest skies, providing a perfect backdrop for the shooting stars.
Plan on camping out one or two hours before twilight, as our planet turns into the meteor stream.
You won’t need any telescopes or fancy equipment to see the meteors, just clear skies, your eyes, and a little bit of patience. Find a dark, remote spot away from the light pollution of nearby towns and cities, make yourself comfortable, and set aside a good chunk of time to enjoy show.
“Give yourself at least an hour of viewing time for watching any meteor shower,” EarthSky.org advises. “Meteors tend to come in spurts that are interspersed by lulls. Also, it can take as long as 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.”
The eta Aquarid radiant in the eastern sky, at 4 a.m. on May 5 and May 6, 2016. Credit: Stellarium/S. Sutherland
While it’s not considered one of the strongest meteor showers that occur during the year, anyone with clear skies and far away from sources of light pollution should be able to see between 10 and 20 meteors per hour.
According to NASA, the morning of May 5 may be the better of the two days for viewing, with slightly more meteors visible in the sky, and the exact peak of the meteor shower is expected during daylight hours on May 5.
During the Eta Aquarids, Earth will collide head on with the debris and meteors will travel through our atmosphere at a speed of about 40 miles per second.
They can appear anywhere in the sky, but if you trace their paths back, they all appear to come from the same point: the radiant. That’s because the meteors are all approaching us at the same angle. Meteor showers are all named after the radiant that the meteors can be traced back to.
This particular shower’s radiant, the faint star Eta Aquarii, is 168 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. It is south of the celestial equator, which is why observers in the Southern Hemisphere get a better show.
Check out the livestream from Slooh on Thursday, May 5, at 8 p.m. EST below: