The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak this weekend, and it could be a big show for skywatchers who are in the right place at the right time.
The annual display of “shooting stars” (which are actually tiny meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere) will peak on the night of May 5-6, which coincides with the night of the May Flower Full Moon. Unfortunately, this will make it harder to see anything other than the brightest meteors.
However, NASA predicts a “significant explosion”, which could produce double the usual number of shooting stars every hour, according to Espace.com (opens in a new tab).
Eta Aquarids typically only produce 10 to 30 meteors per hour just before dawn when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, according to the American Meteor Society (opens in a new tab). They are most often seen as “Earthgrazers”, long meteors on the horizon, according to Nasa (opens in a new tab).
The downpour tends to appear stronger in the southern hemisphere, with a rate of around 60 meteors per hour during the downpour’s peak. That means there could be up to 120 shooting stars per hour during peak Eta Aquarid times this year.
Shooting stars produced by Eta Aquarids are particularly fast, hurtling at over 146,000 mph (235,000 km/h), and they often leave lingering “trains” (glowing debris in their wake) that last several seconds to a few minutes, according to NASA.
Sightings like these could be one of the best ways to experience the Eta Aquarids this year, as the full moon will rise at dusk on May 5 and set at dawn on May 6, so it will light up the sky all day long. the night. However, skywatchers in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand will have a distinct advantage as there will be a slight lunar eclipse for about four hours overnight (with maximum eclipse at 1722 GMT on May 5), so there will be briefly less moonlight to contend with, which will make viewing meteors a bit easier.
Active between April 19 and May 28 each year, Eta Aquarids are caused by debris left in the inner solar system by Halley’s Comet. This year’s potential explosion will be caused by particles ejected from the comet in 390 BC, according to Live Science partner site Space.com.
Eta Aquarid meteors appear to originate near the star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius, but they can appear anywhere in the sky. The constellation Aquarius rises above the horizon a few hours after midnight, as seen from the northern hemisphere, and peaks a few hours before dawn. Use a good telescope or star gazing binoculars will actually make it harder to see shooting stars; all you need are your bare eyes.