Our second meteor shower of the year, the Eta Aquarids, occurs over three days from 5-7 May 2016.
The best point to see the meteors (called the Radiant Point) is near the star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius (see pic below). Aquarius is in the South East area of the sky. You don’t need a compass to work out where South East is, if you know where the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Eta Aquarii is one of the four stars that make up the ‘water jar’ section of the constellation Aquarius and it is after this star that the meteor shower is named.
Every year, the Earth passes through the orbital path of Halley’s Comet and its pieces of this comet that create the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The comet smashes dust into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at around 150 mph!
The best time to view this meteor shower is between 4am and 6am, or the two hours before dawn, in every country around the world. It takes our eyes time to adjust to the light, particularly in the early morning, so we need to be out and watching for meteors a good hour before the sun begins to lighten the night sky.
I’d give yourself an hour to watch out for meteors as they come in bursts and then there are lulls in between. In the Southern Hemisphere its possible to see 20-40 meteors an hour. This is probably the best meteor shower in the Southern Hemisphere in 2016.
In the mid-Northern Hemisphere, there are less meteors with only 10-20 on average per hour.
The peak of this meteor shower coincides with the exact time of the New Moon, so the skies will be pitch black and perfect for star gazing!
Due to the radiant point being so close to the horizon, we may be lucky enough to see some Earth Grazers ~ which are meteors that travel horizontally across the sky for quite some time, leaving long trails behind. The higher the radiant point appears in the sky, where ever you are in the world, the more chance you’ll have of seeing decent sized meteors.
The most meteors will be seen however, just before dawn, starting from 4am so if you’re an early riser and morning lark, keep your eyes focused on the sky 😉
Main photo credit: 2013 Eta Aquarid Meteor Over Mount Bromo. Astrophotographer Justin Ng