The Eta Aquarid meteor shower presents itself in our skies during the span of April 19th through May 28th. But the shower’s peak is scheduled to arrive in the predawn hours of May 4th, 5th, and 6th this year, 2013. What’s more, both northern and southern hemisphere viewers will get the chance to observe this shooting star display—–and with minimal interference from the thin waning crescent moon!
The Eta Aquarids this year are expected to produce between 10 to 40 meteors per hour during their peak days, with folks in the southern latitudes expected to see higher averages—–such as 55 to 65 meteors per hour—–compared to their more northerly counterparts.
The radiant of the Eta Aquarids can be found in the the ‘water bearer’ or ‘water carrier’ constellation of Aquarius. More specifically, the meteor shower appears to radiate close to one of the four stars comprising the asterism of the water jar within the northern quadrant of the constellation Aquarius. And, Aquarius—–one of the original 48 constellations, even documented by the astronomer Ptolemy in Antiquity, before being standardized as one of the mainstays in the present day’s recognized 88 constellations—–shall be seen in the east-southeastern sky before sunrise.
The rule of thumb is that the higher in the sky Aquarius appears, then the more likely would viewers observe more Eta Aquarid shooting stars. It is important to note that Aquarius is expected to rise around 3 AM, which is why the moments just before sunrise are forecasted to be the best times to view the most number of Eta Aquarid meteors.
Interestingly enough, Halley’s Comet is believed to be the source of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, just as it is parent as well to the Orionid meteor shower later in the year. Meanwhile, from late April to mid-May the Earth’s orbital path intersects with that of Halley’s Comet, and the particle debris encountered lights up the sky as the Eta Aquarids. The comet’s dust stream collides with the upper atmosphere at a rate of approximately 150,000 miles per hour, with the friction creating incandescent trajectories. Some Eta Aquarid shooting stars are known to leave persistent gassy or smokey trails that last for a few seconds longer than normal, thus making them be identified as fireballs.
Historically, the Eta Aquarids have been recorded since about 74 BC. But Lieutenant Colonel G. L. Tupman is officially credited as having “discovered” the meteor shower in 1870.
It’s recommended that stargazers dress appropriately for the weather, bring blankets to guard against morning chill, and use a reclining chair so as to protect one’s neck and back muscles from strain and over-exertion, since showers tend to have their varied spurts and lulls during a viewing session. Best viewing will be far from artificial lights, especially since the human eye can take a little more than a quarter of an hour to adapt to the dark. No special equipment is needed to view the meteor shower, since the naked eye alone provides the widest field of vision to observe the Eta Aquarids’ display.
So this May 4th, 5th, and 6th make sure to treat yourself to a late spring reminder of the famous Halley’s Comet when the Eta Aquarids arrive in our skies.