Hot on the heels of last week’s peak viewing conditions for the Lyrid meteor shower comes the Eta Aquarids, which will become visible this week before peaking on Tuesday, May 6.
The Eta Aquarids are viewable in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres during pre-dawn hours, according to NASA, though the view is typically better in the South. National Geographic noted that stargazers should be able to see between five and 10 shooting stars per hour before the sun rises if they view from a dark location during its peak next week.
When viewing the Eta Aquarids, NASA recommends finding an area located far away from any artificial lights, and to bring a blanket, lawn chair or sleeping bag. Enthusiasts should lie on their backs with their feet facing east and look up, making certain to keep their eyes on as much of the sky as possible. After 30 minutes or so, their eyes will adapt and meteors will become visible.
What you should know about the Eta Aquarids
The Eta Aquarids is one of two meteor showers that occur each year when Earth travels through dust released by Halley’s Comet (the other, the Orionids, occur in late October). They appear to emanate from the constellation Aquarius, and since this part of the sky tends to rise just one hour or so before the start of morning twilight, according to Meteor Showers Online.
The meteors of the Eta Aquarids are known for their speed, as these quick-moving objects travel at speeds of more than 148,000 mph (66 km/s) through the planet’s atmosphere. Particularly fast-moving meteors can leave behind incandescent debris fragments known as “trains,” the US space agency said, and in northern latitudes the meteors may appear to skim the Earth’s surface.
Meteor Showers Online notes that there are also typically other, weaker meteor showers that can be seen at the same time as the Eta Aquarids. In addition to meteors from this shower moving at fast speeds, stargazers can ensure that they are viewing the Eta Aquarids by tracing it backwards to see if they wind up at the constellation Aquarius, the website noted.
The Eta Aquarids were officially discovered in 1870 by Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. Tupman as he was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. Tupman spotted 15 meteors on April 30 and 13 meteors on the night of May 2 and May 3, and 45 meteors plotted during the April 29 to May 5, 1870, were later found in the records of the Italian Meteoric Association. The meteor shower was officially confirmed by Tupman on April 29, 1871, when he spotted and plotted eight meteors.